Catheter-Associated Bloodstream Infection

What is catheter-associated bloodstream infection?

Catheter-associated bloodstream infection (CABSI) is an infection in the blood that can happen when you have a catheter in a blood vessel. A catheter is a small tube inserted through the skin and into a blood vessel. It may be used to give you fluids and medicines during your hospital stay or while you are at home. It may also be used to draw blood.

Most often a catheter is placed into a vein in the wrist or arm. Sometimes it is put in the back of the hand. One type of catheter called a central line is placed in the chest, neck, arm, or groin. A central line may be used if you need treatment for several days or weeks, such as chemotherapy.

What is the cause?

Sometimes the cause of the infection is not known. Your blood can get infected if germs such as bacteria or fungus get into your body where the catheter goes into your vein. This may happen if:

  • Healthcare providers do not clean their hands, wear gloves, and clean your skin with an antiseptic when they:
    • Put the catheter in.
    • Give you medicines or draw blood.
    • Change the bandage around the catheter.
  • The catheter stays in for too many days.
  • Visitors do not clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after visiting you.
  • You have more than 1 central line.
  • The catheter was put in as emergency treatment.

You have a higher risk of getting a blood infection if you have:

  • Cancer
  • Long-term illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung problems

You are also at higher risk if you are taking medicines such as steroids or anticancer drugs. These medicines can make it harder for your body to fight infection.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Dizziness or fainting when you stand up
  • Confusion, especially in older adults
  • Pain, redness, swelling, or drainage of pus from where the IV goes into your skin

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You will have a blood test to look for signs of infection. The catheter may be removed and sent to the lab to be tested. If you have an infection, it may take several days to find out what kind of germ is causing it. Knowing what germ is causing the infection helps your provider choose the right medicine to treat it.

How is it treated?

CABSI is a serious infection. It will be treated with antibiotics.

If you have an infection, the catheter might need to be removed as part of the treatment. If you still need a catheter, a new one will be put in a different part of your body.

CABSI can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics, but the infection can be life-threatening. You will likely need to stay in the hospital for a longer time. It will probably also take you longer to recover after you go home.

How can I help prevent CABSI?

Some things you can do to protect yourself from infection while you are at the hospital are:

  • Make sure that all healthcare providers caring for you clean 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, ask them to do so. Also remind everyone who enters your hospital room–whether family, friends, or staff–to clean their hands. Visitors should not touch the catheter or the tubing.
  • If the bandage over the catheter site comes off or gets wet or dirty, tell your healthcare provider right away.
  • Tell your provider if the area around your catheter is sore or red.

If you still have a catheter when you go home from the hospital:

  • Your providers will teach you how to care for it at home. Make sure you understand how to care for the catheter before you leave the hospital. For example, ask about showering or bathing with the catheter and how to change the catheter dressing.
  • Make sure you clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before handling your catheter.
  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-24
Last reviewed: 2014-09-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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