The most common healthcare-acquired infections are urinary tract infections (UTIs), and half of them are associated with catheters. Approximately, a third of people catheterised develop bacteria in their urine after a few days, and 25% of them get infected. Fortunately, but still serious enough, a small percentage of them will develop life-threatening infections like sepsis.
NHS England estimates that these infections have a very high cost due to prolonged hospital stays and extra treatments. The estimation is an additional £99 million per year.
Catheters, however, will always be needed, although a lot of their use could be avoided. The surface of a catheter is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which can gather on the surface. If these groups enter the kidney or bladder through the urine, they could create an infection. And sometimes antibiotics are not enough. Besides, these infections do not present clear symptoms in early stages, and that makes them difficult to detect.
We are increasingly aware that bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a primary problem for healthcare in the 21st Century. It is estimated that more than 10 million people could die because of infection with resistant bacteria by 2050.
Good news is that advances in catheters made of new bio-polymers which are designed for bacteria not to stick in it. A research by the University of Nottingham has derived a very promising material which is now in phase of clinical trials. The combination of this new material with the development and adoption of faster and cheaper systems to identify bacterial infections will help us secure a safer future for us all.