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Illinois Hospital Report Card

and Consumer Guide to Health Care

What are bloodstream infections associated with catheters and how can they be prevented?

Blood stream infections associated with catheters are estimated to be the cause of some 14,000 deaths annually in this country. They prolong hospital stays and result in excess costs. Eliminating blood stream infections associated with catheters is a national priority. Hospitals are tracking blood stream infections through the CDC’s surveillance system to identify problem areas, improve practices, and measure progress toward eliminating these infections.

A central line is a tube placed in a large vein to allow access to the bloodstream and provide the patient with important medicine. A central line-associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) can occur when bacteria or other germs travel along a central line and enter the blood. When not put in correctly or kept clean, central lines can become a pathway for germs to enter the body and cause serious infections in the blood.


The risk of infection associated with central lines can be reduced with several key health care provider practices:

  1. Proper hand hygiene when caring for the catheter. Soap and water or an alcohol- based waterless hand cleanser help to prevent contamination of the catheter site and resultant infection.
  2. Meticulous care when inserting a catheter should be practiced. Health care personnel should practice strict hand hygiene, wear a sterile gown and gloves, and a special cap and mask to keep the area clean. A sterile drape should cover the patient.
  3. Prior to the insertion of the central line, the skin should be cleansed with a special skin antiseptic.
  4. Once a central line is in place, providers should wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol based hand rub before and after touching the line.
  5. Central lines should be removed promptly once they are no longer necessary. The longer the catheter is in place, the greater the risk of infection over time.

What can you do as a patient?

  1. Ask your doctor and nurses to explain to you why you need the catheter and how long you will need it.
  2. Make sure the doctors and nurses wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for you. If you do not see them clean their hands, please ask them to do so.
  3. If the bandage comes off or becomes wet or dirty, tell your nurse or doctor immediately.
  4. Inform your nurse or doctor if the area around your catheter is sore or red.
  5. Don’t get the central line or the central line insertion site wet.
  6. Do not let family and friends who visit touch the catheter or the tubing.
  7. Make sure family and friends clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after they visit you.

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