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Diseases & Topics

Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infection (CLABSI)

A central line-associated bloodstream infection is a serious healthcare-associated infection (HAI) that occurs when germs enter a person's bloodstream through a medically inserted central line. A central line – also called a central venous catheter – is a tube (catheter) that doctors often place in a large vein in the neck, chest, or groin to give medication or fluids or to collect blood for medical tests. Central lines are different from IVs (intravenous catheters) that are used to give medicine or fluids into a vein near the skin's surface (usually on the arm or hand), for short periods of time. Instead, central lines access a major vein that is close to the heart. They can remain in place for weeks or months and be much more likely to cause serious infection. Central lines are commonly used in intensive care units.

Patients who get a CLABSI have a fever, and might also have red skin and soreness around the central line. Although they can usually be successfully treated, CLABSIs can be very serious.

To prevent infection, healthcare providers must follow a strict protocol when inserting a central line to make sure the line and the insertion site remains sterile, and they must use stringent infection control practices each time they check the line or change the dressing. These steps include washing their hands and the insertion site thoroughly; wearing sterile gloves, a gown and face mask whenever they handle the tube or change the bandage; and removing the catheter as soon as it is no longer needed.

Patients can help prevent CLABSIs by paying close attention to their healthcare and by talking with their healthcare providers about why and for how long they need the catheter, and how to prevent infection. They should watch to make sure their providers clean their hands well before and after every procedure and that no one else (including the patient) touches the tube or the site. They should also immediately tell the doctor or nurse if the bandage comes off or becomes wet or dirty, if any soreness or redness develops around the site, or if they feel feverish.

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