Background: Chloramphenicol ointment is often used in plastic and dermatologic surgery as a topical antibiotic for surgical wounds, but evidence regarding its efficacy and side effects is lacking. In addition, anecdotal fear of aplastic anaemia exists from the oral use of this drug. We performed a systematic review of the literature to assess the efficacy and side effect profile of topical chloramphenicol ointment on non-ocular surgical wounds. Methods: A systematic search of MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Library from inception until 4 September 2017 was undertaken. Clinical studies of topical chloramphenicol ointment use on surgical wounds were included. Studies looking only at ocular use or those not available in full text or English were excluded. The review was conducted adhering to PRISMA guidelines. Results: After full-text review, five articles were included. Two were randomized controlled trials, one was retrospective case control and two were case studies. There was evidence that chloramphenicol ointment use on surgical wounds produced a non-statistically significant reduction in infection rates. Delayed hypersensitivity and acute oesophagitis were noted as potential side effects of non-ocular topical use. Aplastic anaemia was not reported. Conclusion: There is a paucity of clinical data regarding the use of topical chloramphenicol ointment on surgical wounds. Further randomized controlled trials may be beneficial in order to support or refute its use in this setting.
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