Handwashing Slashes Risk of Catheter Infections in Hospitals

Five simple measures dramatically reduce risk of catheter-related bloodstream infections

FRIDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Handwashing, the use of full-barrier precautions during insertion and other tried-and-true safety measures can dramatically cut the risk of catheter-based bloodstream infections in intensive care units, according to the results of a new study of 103 Michigan ICUs published in the Dec. 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and colleagues reviewed the rate of catheter-related bloodstream infections among ICUs before, during and up to 18 months after implementing five safety measures. The safety measures included handwashing, using full-barrier precautions during the insertion of central venous catheters, cleaning skin with chlorhexidine, avoiding the femoral site whenever possible and removing unnecessary catheters.

These relatively simple interventions reduced rates of catheter-based infections by 66 percent and improvements were maintained for the 18-month study period. Specifically, the median rate of catheter-related bloodstream infections per 1,000 days decreased from 2.7 at baseline to 0 post-implementation of the safety measures. The mean rate decreased from 7.7 at baseline to 1.4 at 16- to 18-month follow-up.

"The story is compelling and the costs and efforts so relatively minor that the five components of the intervention should be widely adopted," write Richard P. Wenzel, M.D., and Michael B. Edmond, M.D., of the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, in an accompanying editorial.

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