Sepsis and Invasive Devices

Invasive devices such as intravenous lines (IVs) and urinary catheters are necessary tools to help treat people who are ill or have certain medical conditions. They are commonplace in most healthcare facilities.

Intravenouses are also becoming more common at home now with home infusions. These are IV treatments with either antibiotics or other medications administered at home, reducing the need for hospital stays or visits to outpatient centers. These devices are often taken for granted by the people who use them though. Unfortunately, whenever an invasive device is used, there is a potential for infection, including healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs), which can lead to sepsis.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Invasive Devices. 2024.

Updated January 19. 2024.


More About Invasive Devices


An invasive device is any medical device introduced into the body. They enter either through a break in the skin or an opening in the body. Examples of common invasive devices include:

  • Urinary catheters: Urinary catheters are rubber or silicone tubes inserted through your urethra to your bladder. A small balloon at the tip of the catheter is inflated once the catheter is in your bladder. This is to keep the catheter from sliding back out. The urine drains through the catheter into a bag attached to the other end. Sometimes, someone only needs a one-time catheterization. The catheter is inserted only long enough to allow the urine to flow from the bladder and is then removed. This one-time catheter use is less likely to cause an infection but is more inconvenient for patients if their doctors need to make sure that all the urine has been collected and measured. Every time the catheter is inserted, there is a chance that bacteria may enter the urinary tract.
  • Intravenous lines: IVs provide fluids, medications, and blood products directly into your bloodstream. A small narrow catheter is inserted into a vein, most often in your hand or lower arm. This catheter attaches to plastic tubing, which in turn attaches to a bag of fluid. In some cases, the catheter has a cap instead to close it off. If you need IV fluid or medication later, the cap is removed and the tubing is attached.
  • PICC lines: Similar to an IV, a PICC line is a special catheter inserted into a vein in your upper arm. It stays in place for a longer period than a regular IV. A PICC line is very long and reaches nearly to your heart, to veins that are called central veins. A PICC line allows you to receive medications, such as an extended course of antibiotics or chemotherapy without having to restart IVs throughout the treatment. Patients can sometimes go home with a PICC line to continue their treatment at home. The line is removed when the antibiotics or other medicines are finished. A PICC line can also allow ICU patients to receive drugs that help keep their blood pressure stable.
  • Central lines: Central lines or central venous catheters are similar to PICC lines but are usually inserted into a large vein in the chest or neck. They also stay in place for longer periods. These lines are also long enough to reach the central veins. They can do the same things as a PICC line while a patient is in the hospital, but they can’t be left in when a patient goes home. Central lines are the IV catheters most likely to become infected, so doctors only use them when they are clearly necessary.
  • Colonoscopes and endoscopes: Scopes are used to perform colonoscopies and endoscopies (to view the upper part of the gastrointestinal system). If the equipment is not thoroughly cleaned or sterilized, it can introduce bacteria into the GI system, causing an infection.

Less frequently used devices include:

  • Endotracheal tubes: An endotracheal tube is a semi-rigid tube inserted into your trachea (windpipe), most often through the mouth. The tube connects to a ventilator, a machine that helps you breathe. A surgeon may perform a tracheotomy if someone needs to be on a ventilator for an extended period. This provides an opening in the throat for the endotracheal tube.
  • Nephrostomy tubes: A nephrostomy tube is a narrow flexible catheter inserted directly into your kidney through an incision in your skin. It’s attached to a bag that collects urine.
  • Gastrostomy tubes: A gastrostomy tube is a large catheter that provides liquid food and medications directly into your stomach. The tube enters through an incision in your abdomen and hooks up to a special bag or a syringe.
  • Traction pins: Traction pins are inserted through the skin into the bone to stabilize it as it heals. Usually, these pins are used for accidental breaks in bones.
  • Defibrillators: Inserted in the chest and wired to the heart to ensure the heart beats effectively at the appropriate rate.
  • Joint implants: Knees, hips, and other joints can be implanted to replace diseased or injured joints.

There are many more devices. These are just a few examples.

Infection Risk

Invasive devices themselves don’t cause infections, but they can provide a route for bacteria and fungi to enter the body. This can happen in different ways.

During insertion

Healthcare professionals must maintain a sterile field when inserting devices. The equipment must be sterilized and sterility must be maintained during the insertion procedure. If the device is contaminated or becomes contaminated during the procedure, there is the risk of infection.

After insertion

The site or area must be kept as clean as possible after insertion. There is now an unnatural opening into the body that can allow bacteria and fungi to enter. Here are a few examples of how to reduce the risk of infection with some invasive medical devices.

Intravenous lines:

Most facilities have guidelines regarding how frequently to change IV lines and IV sites (where the catheter enters the skin). The most common recommendations are to change IV tubing every three to seven days, unless the patient is receiving blood products or fat emulsions. Tubing for these products need changes within 24 hours. Certain types of medications given by IV also require more frequent changes. While it can be painful to have an IV inserted, the catheter (“needle”) should be removed and the IV restarted in another area every 72 to 96 hours.

Signs of an infected IV site include redness around the catheter insertion site, pain, and skin that is warm to the touch.

PICC lines and central lines are not replaced at the same rate as IVs. Inserting these devices requires special care with surgical masks, gowns, and sterile gloves. This allows the devices to remain in place for longer, as long as they do not look infected.

Urinary catheters:

People with urinary catheters are at risk for developing urinary tract infections (UTIs). The catheter provides an opening into the bladder for bacteria to enter. Urinary catheters should never be left open to air. They should be attached to a closed-bag system, with the bag positioned lower than the body for urine flow. These should never be placed on the floor though. Bacteria may collect on the bag and then enter the system. The bag should be emptied at least every 8 hours or when it is full, whichever comes first. It is also important that good hygiene be given to the genital area on a regular basis.

Urinary catheters are inserted for a variety of reasons, but are not usually meant to be left in for long periods of time. A person may have a catheter after surgery or if they aren’t urinating. Occasionally, urinary catheters stay in longer than they should. If you have a urinary catheter, you can ask your healthcare professional each day if you still need the catheter.

Signs of a UTI include cloudy and/or foul-smelling urine, pain on urination and fever. Seniors may develop confusion and not show any of the typical signs.

Traction pins:

Traction pins go directly into the bone, so infections could delay bone healing if they develope in the bone itself. Pins are cleaned regularly as per your healthcare professional’s instructions, usually twice a day.

Signs of an infection in the pin area include redness and warmth around the area, swelling, increasing pain at the site, drainage or pus from the site, and fever.

If you have any invasive devices, watch for any signs and symptoms of infection and sepsis.

Related Resources

Sepsis and Home Care

Information Guide

Invasive Devices

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Claire Lapat

I developed severe sepsis and went into septic shock in March 2023, at 23 years old. I was on TPN (total parenteral nutrition) as a result of my Crohn’s disease. (Sepsis and Invasive Devices) Unfortunately TPN is almost like agar used in microbiology lab and Crohn’s disease changes the permeability of the intestines making it easier for bacteria to leak out into the bloodstream, making the combination a perfect storm. I had labs drawn weekly and I got a call in the evening that my WBC count was elevated and to monitor my temperature. At that point I was at ... Read Full Story

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Andres Rosario

English translation by Sepsis Alliance; original Spanish text follows. My father passed away at 61 due to organ failure caused by septic shock. My father was a diabetic and it all started with a check of his diabetes, after analysis and x-rays they found he had an enlarged prostate and would need to operate. The operation was successful, and he was sent home with a urinary catheter for 20 days. This worried me as I know that diabetics having a catheter for a prolonged time are at a higher risk of serious infection.  Once the catheter was removed, my father ... Read Full Story

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Jim G.

My name is Jim, and after reading some of the other survivor and tribute stories, I’m almost embarrassed to share mine. But in the interest of education for anyone who may read it, here goes. Background: I have had a series of TURPs (prostate surgery). Also of note, my normal temp is 97.6. Oct 11, 2023: I had a TURP with injection of steroids to (hopefully) prevent scar tissue. I was sent home with a Foley catheter and 3 days of ABs (antibiotics). (Sepsis and Invasive Devices) Oct 17: I noticed a tiny amount of pus around the catheter, which ... Read Full Story

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Karin Solis

I wanted to share with you my sepsis nightmare in 2021. Well it started in December 2020, I had been through sepsis back in 2016 and again in 2017 (septic shock), so I know the early warning signs oh too well.  My fever went from 99.8 to 103.6 in 15 minutes. So I called 911 and was admitted with sepsis. I had a port-a-cath so I was told it was the port that my body was rejecting. (Sepsis and Invasive Devices) So it was removed and replaced. I was admitted with sepsis in February, April, June, July and August of ... Read Full Story

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Carly Gray

They named me the Unicorn case as I was a healthy 31 year old prior and then this. On Thanksgiving ’22 I wasn’t feeling right, thought I was coming down with strep or something my oldest son brought home from school. It started as a sore throat for a few days maybe a week. The Friday after Thanksgiving, I felt very weak, my body didn’t feel right it was achy and I was short of breath. I recall being downstairs in my home and it took everything in me to get up from the couch and go upstairs to my ... Read Full Story

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Invasive Devices