the hidden danger of catheter associated urinary tract infections

It goes without question that one of the more unpleasant surprises for many patients admitted to the hospital is learning that they will have to use a urinary catheter during their stay. For those unfamiliar with this device, it is essentially a small tube guided into the bladder via the urethra that allows urine to be collected in a hanging bag.

The primary purpose of the urinary catheter is to provide those otherwise unable to travel to and from the bathroom or use a bedpan with a means of emptying their bladder. It also enables medical professionals to monitor the body’s production of urine.

While you would think that urinary catheters were fairly sterile and trouble-free medical devices, they are actually the source of a surprising number of infections. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that catheter associated urinary tract infections — CAUTIs — are one of the most common types of hospital-acquired infections, comprising over 30 percent of total infections.

A patient typically develops a CAUTI in either one of two ways: urine flowing from the bag back into the catheter or bacteria making its way into the kidneys or bladder via the catheter.

The longer the patient has the urinary catheter inserted, the greater the risk of infection. To illustrate, research has found that for every day a patient has the device, the risk of infection increases by a whopping five percent. This, of course, means hospital staff must be diligent in their monitoring.

While many people might be tempted to dismiss the dangers posed by CAUTIs, perhaps viewing it as something that can be dealt with through a simple antibiotics regimen in the worst case scenario, this isn’t always the case.

The truth is that untreated and undiagnosed CAUTIs can evolve into potentially deadly bloodstream infections. Furthermore, even CAUTIs treated with antibiotics can still result in the onset of more serious conditions like Clostridium difficile (i.e., C. diff), an intestinal infection defined by the Mayo Clinic as a “bacterium that can cause [serious] symptoms and typically occurs after use of antibiotic medications.”

Stay tuned for our next post in which we’ll discuss what hospitals should do and patients can do to protect against CAUTIs.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you or a loved one developed a hospital-acquired infection that you believe was attributable to hospital negligence.

Source: Consumer Reports, “Watch out for urinary tract infections in hospitals,” June 2014

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