Catheter-Related Bloodstream Infections

Hospital-acquired infections can lead to a variety of serious complications. One of the common types that patients develop is a bloodstream infection by way of a catheter. Oftentimes this is preventable and may result in a victim or family of a loved one pursuing a medical malpractice claim.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, every year an estimated 80,000 patients develop a catheter-related bloodstream infection. Sadly, about 31,000 will lose their lives as a result. By educating oneself about the symptoms and preventative measures related to catheters, you can help determine if you need legal representation for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Overview of a Catheter-Related Bloodstream Infection

A catheter is a tube placed into a patient’s vein. Its typical functions are to: 

  • administer medication;
  • provide fluids; or
  • draw blood.

The following are four main types of catheters, as outlined by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology: 

  • non-tunneled – typically inserted short-term or on an emergency basis in the internal jugular or subclavian vein (which connects to the jugular);
  • tunneled – designed for long-term therapy and is tunneled underneath the skin in a subcutaneous pocket (fatty layer of tissue under the skin);
  • peripherally inserted – can be used short- or long-term and is inserted into a small blood vessel; and
  • implantable port – surgically implanted for long-term therapy and placed in superior vena cava (vein which carries deoxygenated blood to the right atrium of the heart). 

Signs and Symptoms of a Bloodstream Infection (Sepsis)

If bacteria gets into the tube, it can enter the bloodstream. Symptoms of a bloodstream infection can vary, depending on where the infection starts in the body. The first signs are redness and soreness at the site of the catheter. If the body’s infection-fighting chemicals in the blood cause widespread inflammation, the patient may have sepsis.

Common symptoms of sepsis include: 

  • fever;
  • chills;
  • diarrhea;
  • nausea;
  • low body temperature;
  • increased heart rate;
  • problems breathing; and
  • confusion, loss of awareness. 

This condition is life-threatening and so diagnoses must be done quickly. A doctor might order blood tests or imaging tests to determine if infection has occurred. When the infection is severe, this typically necessitates treatment in an intensive care unit.

How a Catheter-Related Bloodstream Infection Relates to Medical Malpractice

Not every infection acquired in a hospital is preventable. But there are certainly efforts that hospital staff and physicians should take to reduce the risk. Of course there is the possibility that careless or reckless actions are clearly the cause of an infection.

When medical staff fails to properly wash their hands – especially before placing a catheter inside the patient or changing a bandage – patients can consider this a negligent action.

It’s also important that at the time of inserting the catheter, the staff is wearing sterile gloves when placing the catheter. Even the sheet that covers the patient should be sterile. Additionally, the opening where the catheter is placed should be thoroughly cleansed.

The fluids and medications given through the catheter should also be handled carefully. Another issue is that the longer the tube is left inside the patient, the greater the risk of an infection. So it’s critical that medical staff doesn’t leave it in any longer than necessary.

Failure to follow proper standards to ensure patient safety and prevent infection could lead to a medical malpractice claim if the patient suffers a catheter-related bloodstream infection.

Compensation could be available to address: 

  • the additional medical costs;
  • lost wages; and
  • other damages such as pain and suffering.

Of course, there can be many challenges to proving healthcare provider negligence. Get help from Gacovino, Lake & Associates if you or a loved one acquired an infection while in a hospital that you suspect is related to medical negligence. Call us today: (800) 246-4878.

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