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Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 23:24 GMT 00:24 UK
'Silver tubes' may cut infections
Intensive care patient
Many intensive care patients will use catheters
The number of infections acquired by patients in hospital could be cut by half if some medical tubes were coated in silver, say doctors.

A study carried out by doctors at the University of Michigan, in the US, says infections could be reduced if hospitals bought more expensive catheters.

Catheters are used in patients who are unable to urinate or need to have their urine monitored. They are inserted into the urethra where they collect urine.

The switch to coated catheters should be a 'no-brainer' for health care providers

Dr Mark Fendrick

But catheters cause thousands of infections in patients. In the US they account for more than one in three hospital-acquired infections.

These include painful urinary tract infections.

The risk of infection increases depending on the amount of time the catheter is inserted into the urethra.

Some patients, like women who have just given birth, use them for a couple of hours but other patients, such as those who have undergone surgery or are in intensive care, can use them for days at a time.

Silver kills bacteria

But the US doctors say the number of infections could be cut by using silver-coated catheters.

These catheters are covered with a thin layer of silver alloy, which can kill bacteria.

They say that while the silver catheters are more expensive than the ordinary uncoated models, they can reduce the chances of urinary tract infection and the associated costs to both patients and hospitals.

Dr Sanjay Saint, assistant professor at the University of Michigan, said: "We can't say that silver-coated catheters are a silver bullet. But our study suggests that for about $5 a piece the risk of UTI is significantly reduced."

Dr Mark Fendrick, an associate professor at the university, added: "These results are exciting from the perspective of both quality of care and cost.

"If our estimates of improved patient safety and lower hospital costs bear out in reality, the switch to coated catheters should be a 'no-brainer' for health care providers.

"However, more and better information about the impact of these catheters in a variety of real-world settings will be needed to either validate or dispute our findings."

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