Scrub but don’t cap the hub to reduce infections in the NICU

Scrub but don’t cap the hub to reduce infections in the NICU

I had the pleasure of meeting the author of a paper I am about to comment on this week while at the 99 NICU conference in Stockholm.  Dr. Ohlin from Orebro University in Sweden presented very interesting work on their unit’s “scrub the hub” campaign. As he pointed out, many places attempt to reduce coagulase negative staphylococcal infections by introducing central line bundles but seldom is there one thing that is changed in a bundle that allows for a before and after comparison like his team was able to do.  I was so impressed by this work and at the same time concerned about another strategy to reduce infection that I felt compelled to make a comment here.

Scrub the hub!

Dr. Ohlin and the first author Dr. Bjorkman published Scrubbing the hub of intravenous catheters with an alcohol wipe for 15 sec reduced neonatal sepsis back in 2015.  They compared a 16.5 month period in their unit when they rolled out a CLABI reduction bundle to a period of 8.5 months afterwards when they made one change.  Nurses as is done in the units I work in were commonly scrubbing the hub before they injected the line with a medication but in the second epoch the standard changed to be a specified 15 second scrub instead of being left up to the individual nurse.  With permission from Dr. Ohlin here is a picture of the hubs highlighting bacterial growth without scrubbing, then for a duration less than 15 seconds and then with 15 seconds.

In the first epoch they had 9 confirmed CLABSIs and 0 confirmed in the second after their intervention.  The rate of CLABSI then in the first epoch was 1.5% vs 0% in the second group.  As with any study looking at sepsis, definitions are important and while they didn’t do paired cultures to rule out contamination (one positive and one negative as is the definition in our hospitals) they did refer each patient to a senior Neonatologist to help determine whether each case should be considered a true positive or not.  Given that they made no changes to practice or other definitions in diagnosing infections during that time perhaps the results were indeed real.  Presumably if they had missed an infection and not treated it in the second epoch the patient would have declared themselves so I think it is reasonable to say that 8.5 months without a CLABSI after their intervention is a success.  As Dr. Ohlin points out the scrub duration may also help due to the abrasion of the hub surface removing a bacterial film.  Regardless of the reason, perhaps a 15 second scrub is a good idea for all?

The lazy person’s solution – the SwabCap

One way to get around human nature or people being distracted might be to cover each luer lock with a cap containing 70% isopropyl alcohol.  In this way when you go to access the line there should be no bacteria or labour required to scrub anything since the entry of the line is bathed in alcohol already.  This was the subject of a systematic review from the Netherlands entitled Antiseptic barrier cap effective in reducing central line-associated bloodstream infections: A systematic review and meta-analysis.  The reviews ultimately examined 9 articles that met their inclusion criteria and found the following; use of the antiseptic barrier cap was effective in reducing CLABSIs (IRR = 0.59, 95% CI = 0.45–0.77, P < 0.001). Moreover, they concluded that this was an intervention worth adding to central-line maintenance bundles. Having said that, the studies were mostly adult and therefore the question of whether minute quantities of isopropyl alcohol might be injected with medications was not a concern when they made their conclusion.

What about using such caps in ELBW infants

Sauron et al in St. Justine Hospital in Montreal chose to look at these caps more carefully after they were implemented in their NICU.  The reason for taking a look at them was due to several luer valves malfunctioning.  The authors created an in-vitro model to answer this question by creating a closed system in which they could put a cap on the end of a line with a luer lock and then inject a flush, followed by a simulated medication (saline) and then a flush and collect the injected materials in a glass vial that was sealed to prevent evaporative loss of any isopropyl alcohol.  They further estimated the safe amount of isopropyl alcohol from Pediatric studies would be 1% of the critical threshold of this alcohol and using a 500g infant’s volume of distribution came up with a threshold of 14 mmol/L.  The study then compared using the SwabCap over two different valve leur lock systems they had in their units (SmartSite and CARESITE valves) vs. using the strategy of “scrub the hub”.

The results were quite concerning and are shown below.

Circuit Type Temperature Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Mean
SwabCap on Smart Site Valve Room 49.5 58.4 46.8 51.6
Incubator 35 degrees 45.16 94.7 77.9 72.6
SwabCap on CARESITE valve Room 14.1 5.7 5.2 8.34
Incubator 35 degrees 7.0 8.1 5.9 7.0
Isopropyl alcohol pad on CARESITE Valve Room 0 0 0 0


Certainly, the Smart Site valve allowed considerable amounts of isopropyl alcohol to enter the line but the CARESITE while better still allowed entry compared to the control arm which allowed none.  Beyond the introduction of the alcohol into the system in all cases considerable clouding of the valves occurred with repeated capping of the system with new caps as was done with each med injection since each was single use.  In lines that were not accessed contact with the cap was left for 96 hours as per recommendations from the manufacturer and these changes occurred as well.


While a reduction in CLABSI is something we all need to strive to obtain, it is better to take the more difficult path and “scrub the hub” and by that for 15 seconds which incidentally is the same recommended duration for hand hygiene in both of our units.  Perhaps in larger term infant’s seepage of isopropyl alcohol into the lines would not be as concerning as their larger volume of distribution would lead to lower levels but I would ask the question “should any isopropyl alcohol be injected into any baby?”.  I think not and perhaps by reading this post you will ask the same thing if your unit is using these caps.

  • Thank you to Örebro University Hospital for their permission in using the photo for the post
Do we need so many shots to prevent RSV bronchiolitis?

Do we need so many shots to prevent RSV bronchiolitis?

I have been a huge advocate of RSV prophylaxis since my days as a Pediatric resident. When I started my residency we were not using Palivizumab (Synagis) and I recall admitting 10+ patients per day at times with bronchiolitis.  With the use of passive immunization this rate dropped dramatically in Manitoba although rates in other areas of the country may have not seen such significant impacts.  Manitoba may be somewhat different from many areas due to the communities in Nunavut being so impacted when RSV enters these areas and can infect many of the children due to crowded living conditions and inability to really isolate kids from one and other.  The lack of benefit in other areas though, has no doubt led to controversy among practitioners who often wonder if giving 5 IM injections during the RSV season is indeed worth it.  The real question has not necessarily been does it work but to whom should it be given so that you get the most benefit.

A Big Change in The Last Year

In 2015 the CPS published a revised statement entitled Preventing hospitalizations for respiratory syncytial virus infection.  This statement has caused a great deal of controversy at least among those I have spoken with due to its significant departure from the previous recommendations. As per the statement:

  • In preterm infants without CLD born before 30 + 0 weeks’ GA who are <6 months of age at the start of RSV season, it is reasonable (but not essential) to offer palivizumab. Infants born after 30 + 0 weeks’ GA have RSV admission rates that are consistently ≤7% (Figure 3), yielding a minimum number needed to treat of 18 (90 doses of palivizumab to prevent one RSV admission) if one assumes 80% efficacy and five doses per infant. Therefore, palivizumab should not be prescribed for this group.

Gone are recommendations for treating those from 30 – 32 weeks and moreover 33- 35 weeks if meeting certain conditions.  There is a provision for those in Northern communities to expand these criteria to 36 0/7 weeks if such infants would require medical transport to receive care for bronchiolitis.  What is not really clear though is what is meant by Northern communities in terms of criteria to determine suitability exactly. Incidentally, the criteria are not so different than the AAP statement from August 2014.

Do We Need So Many Shots?

Just at the end of 2016 though Lavoie P et al in Vancouver, BC published a letter outlining their experience with a modified schedule of either 3 or 4 doses of palivizumab during the RSV season.  Included in the letter are their criteria for determining the number of doses and importantly pharmacokinetic data demonstrating the effectiveness of such schedules in achieving protective titres.  pharmacokineticsThe 3 dose schedule was used for those infants born between 29 0/7 and 35 weeks gestational age who had a risk factor score of 42 or more. Interestingly at the end of the RSV season, depriving such infants of 1 or 2 doses did not appear to impair the ability of the infant to maintain protective levels.

From a clinical standpoint the outcome data during this period examining 514 (3 dose) and 666 (4 dose) patients similarly suggests that they were indeed protected from disease.  In the 3 dose cohort only 1 patient was hospitalized with RSV during the dosing period and 1 infant afterwards.  In the 4 dose group, 10 were hospitalized with RSV  during the dosing schedule and a set of twins afterwards.  Aside from these known RSV infections, an additional 7 and 18 patients were hospitalized with bronchiolitis without viral identification during the dosing schedule with no cases of bronchiolitis afterwards.  Taken altogether and assuming that all cases were indeed RSV bronchiolitis the authors conclude that the overall rates are no different than those seen with a 5 dose schedule.

Is Something Rotten In The State of Denmark?

There is something peculiar here though.  There is no doubt that palivizumab must have gone through rigorous pharmacokinetic testing in order to determine the correct number of doses needed. For a 3-4 dose regimen to provide the same coverage in terms of antibody titres seems strange to me. I would love to believe the data but there is a skeptic in me. Secondly with respect to counting hospital admissions is this exhaustive in terms of including all hospitalization a in BC or at only some sites? Clarity is needed before considering such changes to practice.  Strangely it has been several months since this experience was published and there has been no discussion of it at least locally.*  Something as dramatic as this should have sparked some discussion and the absence of such leaves me questioning what am I missing?
From the standpoint of reducing interventions and pain in the neonate I am intrigued by these findings.  Parents as well would no doubt be happier with 3-4 IM injections over 5.  The additional benefit is no doubt financial as this product while effective does carry a significant cost per dose.  As you can see I have my doubts about the reproducibility of the results but it does at least offer some centres that have not been as enthusiastic about palivizumab something to consider. For some, the BC approach just might be the right thing.

  • I indicate that there has been little discussion locally of the article discussed.  There has indeed been discussion both here and in other Canadian provinces.  What I meant by that comment is that among my colleagues in Neonatology and Infectious Diseases and housestaff I have had only one discussion.
Bladder Catheterization For UTIs: Causing more harm than good

Bladder Catheterization For UTIs: Causing more harm than good

It is one of the first things that a medical student pledges to do; that is to do no harm. We are a fearful lot, wanting to do what is best for our patients while minimizing any pain and suffering along the way. This is an admirable goal and one which I would hope all practitioners would strive to excel at. There are times however when we can inadvertently cause more harm than good when we try to avoid what we perceive is the greater harm.
This is the case when it comes to collecting a sample of urine for culture as part of a full septic workup. If you ask most healthcare providers they will freely acknowledge that the gold standard for determining whether an infant has a UTI is a supra pubic aspirate (SPA). We so rarely do them these days however due to a whole host of reasons. Problems with collection include the timing and accuracy of needle placement both of which may often lead to an empty tap.  Secondly after a number of missed attempts and a crying infant who appears to be in pain it is understandable why bedside nurses may become frustrated with the entire experience and urge the person performing such procedures to settle on a bladder catheterization (BC) to obtain the specimen.

The Study That Compares BC and SPA Head to Head


A recent Turkish study by Eliacik K et al published A Comparison of Bladder Catheterization and Suprapubic Aspiration Methods for Urine Sample Collection From Infants With a Suspected Urinary Tract Infection and should give us all cause for concern.  The authors performed SPA on 83 infants under 12 months with a positive urine culture by BC but who had not yet started antibiotics.  The outcome of interest was both the comparison with the culture result and to see if urinalysis from the BC could increase the strength of the information gleaned from a BC.

All in all the BC performed quite poorly when compared to the gold standard.  The false positive rate compared to SPA was 71.1%! That is to say that only 28.9% of SPA samples were positive compared to BC.  Similarly urinalysis sensitivity and specificity from BC were 66.7% (95% CI, 44.68% to 84.33%) and 93.22% (95% CI, 83.53% to 98.08%), respectively.  This means that only 2/3 of the time was the urinalysis abnormal on a BC in the presence of a true UTI.  Somewhat reassuring is that when there really was no UTI the urinalysis was mostly negative but in almost 1/10 patients it would not by itself rule out a UTI.

What Is The Harm in Continuing BC Instead of SPA?

When we try to avoid the perceived painful experience of a SPA we are going to wind up treating a large number of patients for a presumed UTI who don’t have one.  The harm in this is the exposure of such infants to prolonged courses of antibiotics which has been a subject discussed many times over on this site.  We put our patients at risk of antibiotic resistance and shifts in the gut microbiome which in the case of the preterm infant puts them at risk of necrotizing enterocolitis.  There are many other concerns with prolonging antibiotics but these few should be reason enough to strive for accuracy in obtaining the right specimen in the right way.  Putting it in a slightly different perspective, would you settle for an alternative test to a lumbar puncture which claimed to miss 1 in 10 cases and also found meningitis where there was none 71.1% of the time?!

A Way Forward – A Recipe For Success

As the saying goes, measure twice and cut once.  With the use of bedside ultrasound there should be no need to guess as to whether the bladder is full or not.  Secondly the placement of the needle should no longer need to rely on landmarking but actually seeing where the best place for needle placement is.  Assessing the bladder by ultrasound is easy and is already employed at the bedside by nurses in many areas of the hospital.  There should no longer be a reason for the empty tap as the practitioner can be called when the baby is ready as evidenced by a good amount of urine in the bladder.

Given that we have some time to do the blood culture and LP, while we wait for the SPA to be done either sucrose in the premature infant or IV analgesic may be given for the SPA while in the term or older infant there is an opportunity to put a topical analgesic cream over the site.  There really is little need for pain to factor into this any longer.

Ask any health care provider and they will tell you they want to do the best they can for their patient.  This study shows us that performing a BC is failing to meet that goal.  We need to change our ways and return to the practice of the SPA but this time we have to get it right.