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A to Z: Central Line Infection

May also be called: Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infection, CLABSI, Central Venous Catheter Infection, CVC Infection, Central Venous Device Infection, Catheter-Related Bloodstream Infection, CRBSI

A central line infection is a serious infection of the bloodstream that occurs when germs enter the body through a tube (central line) placed in a vein to deliver nutrients and medicine.

More to Know

A central line, or central venous catheter, is a surgically placed tube through which doctors can give intravenous (IV) medications and other fluids, as well as draw blood. The tube, or catheter, feeds into a major vein near the heart and can remain in the body for as long as medically necessary. This can spare a person’s veins the damage that can come from frequent sticks, but it can also raise the risk of an infection.

When bacteria, viruses, or other germs enter someone’s bloodstream through a central line, they can cause central line infections. Anyone with a central line can get an infection, but the risk is higher for people in intensive care units and people who have:

  • a weakened immune system
  • a serious illness or other medical condition
  • a central line that stays in place for a long time
  • a central line in the groin or neck

Signs of a central line infection include fever and red skin, pain, or swelling in the area of the central line. If they aren’t treated right away, central line infections can quickly become life threatening. Treatment involves finding the germ causing the infection and then taking the right medicines to fight it. Treatment may also involve removing the line.

Keep in Mind

To help prevent infections, people with central lines need to work closely with their doctors and the hospital to keep central lines clean, sterile, and working correctly at all times. A doctor or nurse should be notified immediately about any sign of infection while a central line is being used. The earlier treatment starts, the better the chances for a good outcome.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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