Silver Catheter Reduces Risk of Infections

By Lindsey Alpert
Daily Staff Reporter

Silver may earn its weight in gold for hospital patients in need of a urinary catheter.

In a new study published in this week’s issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers at the University have found silver-alloy-coated catheters prevent urinary tract infections in patients and are cost effective.

A catheter is tubing that is inserted into the urethra to collect urine from patients. Nearly four million hospital patients in the United States use a catheter for some time during their hospital stay.

Catheters also increase the risk of urinary tract infections, causing about 600,000 each year, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Most of the bacteria come from the intestinal track,” University Health System Medical Director of Infection Control Carol Chenoweth, who co-authored the study. “The bacteria can live on the skin around the urethra and get in by way of the catheter.”

Tests using silver alloy catheters have shown they decrease the risk of urinary tract infections, which may reduce the total cost of treatment by eliminating urinary tract infection treatment.

“Silver has an anti-bacterial activity,” said Internal Medicine Prof. Sanjay Saint, who led the study. “The exact mechanism is unclear, but there are several theories.”

Saint examined the economic consequences of using a silver-coated catheter opposed to regular catheter by looking at past data regarding the rates of urinary tract infections and the cost of treatment.

A silver-coated catheter costs five dollars more than the $12.45 regular catheter.

“We found that in certain patient populations a silver-alloy catheter should be strongly considered to prevent the common, costly and morbid complication of urinary tract infections,” Saint said.

Researchers looked at data from patients that used a catheter for two to 10 days, in hospital units for intensive care, post-surgical care, general medical care and urology care.

Rates of symptomatic urinary tract infection were reduced by 47 percent and the chance of bacteremia, bacteria getting into blood, by 44 percent.

The health system may also benefit by lower health care costs,” said co-author Mark Fendrick, an internal medicine associate professor and the University’s Consortium for Health Outcomes, Innovation and Cost Effectiveness Studies co-director.

The scientists estimated that the cost of detecting and treating a symptomatic urinary tract infection was about $400 and the cost of the bacteremia infection at roughly $2,000.

“We thought that was a conservative estimate,” Saint said. “We actually used a range and we said it can range between $835 and $4,082.”

Hospitals, including the University Hospitals, are looking in to the benefits of using silver-coated catheters on patients fitting the criteria.

“We are using the catheters in our hospital but we chose to use it in patients that will use catheters the longest,” Chenoweth said.

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