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Health Check: Short Term Peripheral Intravenous Catheters

Health Check: Short Term Peripheral Intravenous Catheters. (NBC 10 Photo)

A commonly used medical device is being scrutinized.

An infectious diseases doctor out of Rhode Island Hospital conducted eye opening research he hopes will serve as a wake-up call to medical professionals and patients.

These medical devices are called short term peripheral intravenous catheters.

"Which most of us have had,” said Dr. Leonard Mermel, an infectious diseases specialist at Rhode Island Hospital “Most patients coming in to an emergency department or admitted to the hospital have these short term peripheral I-V's put in to their hands, put in to their arms."

In the U-S, about 330-million of these I-Vs are sold said Mermel. Two hundred million of them, he said, end up in adult patients. And got him to thinking.

"We currently do surveillance for central venous catheter infections,” he noted.

Those are catheters that are inserted for a long period of time to administer medication or fluids. But he wanted to know the risks related to the short term I-V catheters. So he did his research looking in to how many of those patients who had acquired blood poisoning were as a result of these peripheral I-V's.

"Every article published in every language since 1980,” he said he pored through. “Using google translator to get an idea of what is the risk of these infections."

He found as many as one in 500 patients had acquired blood stream infections as a result.

But how?

"We have as many bacteria in and on our body as human cells so our skin is covered in a microcosm of microorganisms,” said Mermel. “You cannot sterilize living skin so we do our best at cleaning the skin before inserting the catheter."

His study, published in the journal: Health Care and Epidemiology, is meant to raise awareness and compel better practices.

"One is training with good aseptic techniques for inserting these catheters,” he said.

"We need to make sure that the insertion site is looked at to make sure that there's no puss or inflammation at the site."

Mermel said these short term catheters should only be used when ABSOLUTELY necessary, and removed and inserted in a different site every three to four days when it is necessary.

For patients, he says we can be more proactive. Let your nurse or doctor know if it hurts, even a little or if there's any drainage or redness around the insertion site. He cautions blood poisoning can be fatal so don't be afraid to ask questions like: Do I really need this?

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