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A prospective randomized trial has investigated whether it is necessary to add oral neomycin to oral metronidazole as a means of preventing sepsis in elective colonic resection. Seventy-three patients completed the study; 41 received metronidazole and placebo neomycin and 32 received metronidazole and active neomycin. There was a significant reduction in the incidence of wound infection in patients receiving neomycin and metronidazole (22%) compared with metronidazole alone (51%, P<0.02). There was also a significant reduction in anaerobic infections in the group receiving metronidazole and neomycin compared with metronidazole alone (P<0.05). These results indicate that oral metronidazole alone is of no benefit for patients requiring elective colonic operations and that if oral metronidazole is advised it should always be given in combination with oral neomycin.