Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Access


      • Send article to Kindle

        To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

        Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

        Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

        Impact of multiple concurrent central lines on central-line–associated bloodstream infection rates
        Available formats

        Send article to Dropbox

        To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

        Impact of multiple concurrent central lines on central-line–associated bloodstream infection rates
        Available formats

        Send article to Google Drive

        To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

        Impact of multiple concurrent central lines on central-line–associated bloodstream infection rates
        Available formats
Export citation



The current methodology for calculating central-line–associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) rates, used for pay-for-performance measures, does not account for multiple concurrent central lines.


To compare CLABSI rates using standard National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) denominators to rates accounting for multiple concurrent central lines.


Descriptive analysis and retrospective cohort analysis.


We identified all adult patients with central lines at 2 academic medical centers over an 18-month period. CLABSI rates were calculated for intensive care units (ICUs) and non-ICUs using the standard NHSN methodology and denominator (a patient could only have 1 central-line day for a given patient day) and a modified denominator (number of central lines in 1 patient in 1 day count as number of line days). We also compared characteristics of patients with and without multiple concurrent central lines.


Among 18,521 hospital admissions, there were 156,574 central-line days and 239 CLABSIs (ICU, 105; non-ICU, 134). Our modified denominator reduced CLABSI rates by 25% in ICUs (1.95 vs 1.47 per 1,000 line days) and 6% (1.30 vs 1.22 per 1,000 line days) in non-ICUs. Patients with multiple concurrent central lines were more likely to be in an ICU, to have a longer admission, to have a dialysis catheter, and to have a CLABSI.


Using the number of central lines as the denominator decreased CLABSI rates in ICUs by 25%. The presence of multiple concurrent central lines may be a marker of severity of illness. The risk of CLABSI per lumen of a central line is similar in ICUs compared to wards.

Central-line–associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) are a leading cause of healthcare-associated infections in the United States. 1 3 Although nationwide efforts have led to a reduction of CLABSIs, there were at least 31,638 CLABSIs in 2014 among US acute-care hospitals, with an estimated annual cost of $0.6–2.7 billion and a reported mortality rate of up to 25%. 3 5 To stimulate further reductions in CLABSI rates, interinstitutional comparisons of healthcare-associated infections are increasingly being used for pay-for-performance measures. 6

CLABSI rates are captured by institutions for comparison and reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and are now being used for pay-for-performance measures. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have required CLABSI reporting to the NHSN from inpatient ICUs since January 2011 and from inpatient wards since January 2015. 7 Accurate measurement of CLABSI rates and appropriate risk adjustment are essential for interinstitutional comparisons to have credibility. 6 , 8 , 9 Although most concerns about using the NHSN data for pay for performance have focused on subjectivity in applying the CLABSI surveillance case definition to determine the numerator, a re-evaluation of the methodology used by NHSN to calculate the denominator (line days) may be warranted. 10

The current NHSN surveillance definition of CLABSI uses 1 line day as the denominator for a patient with 1 or more lines present. This definition does not account for multiple concurrent central lines or the number of lumens. The presence of multiple concurrent central lines has been shown to be an independent risk factor for CLABSI, and accounting for multiple central lines in the denominator can substantially reduce the CLABSI rate in high-acuity locations. 11 13 However, other reports have found a more modest impact on CLABSI rates by accounting for multiple lines. 14 It is unclear whether the difference in reported impact on CLABSI rates by accounting for multiple lines reflects (1) differences in practice patterns (2) differences in patient populations including differences in acuity of patients, or (3) accuracy of the line-day determination when electronic systems are used for line counting. We have previously shown the importance for the validating line-day documentation in electronic medical records. 15

Using a robust, validated data set, we sought to further clarify the impact of using the actual number of central lines as the denominator to determine CLABSI rates and also calculate CLABSI rates using the number of lumens on central lines as the denominator. We also explored the types of central lines present and their relative contribution to the total number of line days. Finally, we assessed the association of multiple concurrent central lines with potential surrogates for severity of illness.


Description of our database, including validation process for the capture of central-line numbers and CLABSIs, have been previously described. 15 Our cohort included all patients with central lines hospitalized at 2 university-owned teaching hospitals from December 2009 to June 2011. We collected the following data for each patient: age, sex, race, dates of admission and discharge from ICU and hospital, date of death (if applicable), facility, CLABSI organism(s), neutropenia on day of CLABSI, and central-line attributes (eg, type, site, lumens, use of silver coated needleless connector, insertion and removal dates if performed during the hospitalization). We did not have access to additional patient-level data. The presence or absence of 1 or more central lines on a given day was ascertained using a previously validated process with a low error rate of <0.05 errors per central-venous catheter (CVC) day maintained throughout the study period. 15 All bloodstream infections were reviewed by 1 investigator (J.S.) and CLABSIs were determined using the standard surveillance definition. 16 We excluded bloodstream infections in persons with absolute neutrophil count <500 cells/µL on the day of positive culture and microbiology included in the NHSN definition of mucosal barrier injury laboratory-confirmed bloodstream infection (MBI-LCBI). 17 , 18

CLABSIs were attributed to either ICUs or wards per NHSN methodology. We calculated the CLABSI rates for ICUs and wards using 3 different denominators:

  1. NHSN method: n central lines in 1 patient in 1 day = 1 line day

  2. Multiple line method: n central lines in 1 patient in 1 day = n line days

  3. Lumen method: n lumens among all central lines per day in 1 patient in 1 day = n lumen-days.

CLABSI rates were calculated for each method by dividing the number of CLABSIs by the total number of central-line days or lumen days as appropriate. The number of lines per day and lumens per day while a central line was present was calculated for each admission and stratified by location (ICU vs ward). These were summed to determine the contribution to the denominator for the multiple line method and lumen method. Central lines without lumen data were assumed to have 1 lumen.

We then determined the central-line types for each unique admission and determined the number of days each type was present in each location (ICU vs ward). We classified all central lines into 6 central-line types: tunneled and nontunneled single- or double-lumen peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC); nontunneled nondialysis multilumen CVC; tunneled and nontunneled dialysis/pheresis catheters (dialysis catheters); tunneled cuffed multilumen catheter (cuffed tunneled catheter); introducer catheters and pulmonary artery catheters (introducer); and implanted ports (port). The proportion contributed by each central-line type to the total central-line days using the multiple line method was determined. We then stratified line type days by occurrence during periods when multiple concurrent central lines were present and when only a single line was present to determine the difference in proportion of central-line types during those periods.

We assessed the association of patients with multiple central lines at any point during hospitalization with CLABSI and available patient level data: age, dwell time (days with at least one central line in place), whether any time was spent in an ICU, and whether or not a dialysis catheter was in place at any point during admission. We defined patients as having multiple concurrent central lines if at any point in their hospitalization at least 2 different central lines were recorded on the same day, including if 1 central line was removed but replaced the same day, regardless of insertion and removal site. To account for the latter scenario, we also performed an analysis limited to patients with at least 2 days with concurrent multiple lines. For patients having multiple hospitalizations, only the first chronological admission was utilized for these comparisons.

We summarized categorical variables as frequencies and continuous variables with means and standard deviations. For statistical comparisons, we utilized the χ2 test for dichotomized continuous variables and calculated odds ratios. SAS version 9.4 software (SAS Institute, Cary, NC) was used for all statistical analyses. This study was approved by the Emory University Institutional Review Board with waiver of informed consent.


In this study, we identified 18,521 admissions among 11,807 unique patients who had central lines in place for 1 or more hospital day. In total, we included 260,544 hospital days, and a central line was in place for 156,574 NHSN line days, or at least 60% of these days. A central line was in place for 53,286 NHSN line days of 60,670 total ICU days (88% of ICU days) and in 103,288 NHSN line days of 199,874 ward days (52% of ward days). Multiple concurrent central lines for at least 1 day occurred in 2,830 of 7,885 ICU admissions (36%) and 1,737 of 15,013 ward admissions (11%) (Table 1). In total 2,910 patients had multiple concurrent central lines during their hospital stays, at least 778 of these 2,910 patients (27%) had central lines that only overlapped for 1 day. Moreover, 1,618 of the 23,774 central lines (6%) in the dataset were missing the number of lumens.

Table 1. Number of CLABSIs, Central-Line Days, and CLABSI Rate Using NHSN and Modified Methods

Note. ICU, intensive care unit; NHSN, National Health Safety Network; SD, standard deviation.

a Rate per 1,000 lumen days. 6% of the central lines in the study did not have lumen data recorded.

b Rate per 1,000 line days.

c Patients had multiple concurrent central lines for at least 1 day during admission.

During the study period, 239 CLABSIs occurred: 105 in ICUs and 134 in wards. CLABSI rates in ICUs decreased by 25% when each central line was included in the denominator: 1.98 per 1,000 line days by the NHSN method versus 1.49 per 1,000 line days using the multiple-line method. Ward CLABSI rates decreased by 6% when each central line was included in the denominator: 1.29 per 1,000 line days versus 1.21 per 1,000 line days. The CLABSI rates per lumen were similar comparing ICUs to wards: 0.62 per 1,000 lumen days in ICUs and 0.60 per 1,000 lumen days in wards.

Line type was missing for 68 of 25,393 central lines (0.3%) and ICUs accounted for 354 line days (98%) where line type was missing. PICCs made up the largest proportion of central-line days (33%), followed by multilumen CVCs (28%) and dialysis catheters (16%) (Table 2). Dialysis catheters and introducers were more common during periods when multiple central lines were in place, whereas cuffed tunneled catheters and ports were more common when 1 central line was in place (Table 2). Femoral location accounted for 6% of central-line days and for 13% of central-line days in periods with multiple concurrent central lines. Insertion site was missing for 1.5% of the total 180,950 central-line days. Patients with multiple central lines had a hospital length of stay and ICU length of stay approximately twice as long as patients with only a single line (Table 3).

Table 2. Percentage of Central-Line Days by Line Type and Line Location

Note. PICC, tunneled and nontunneled single or double lumen peripherally inserted central catheters; CVC, triple and quadruple lumen nontunneled nondialysis central venous catheter; dialysis, tunneled and nontunneled dialysis/pheresis catheters; cuffed, tunneled cuffed nondialysis central lines; introducer, includes sheaths, single-lumen introducer catheters, and multilumen introducer catheters.

Table 3. Demographics Among 11,807 Unique Patients

Note. SD, standard deviation; ICU, intensive care unit; LOS, length of stay.

a NHSN line-day method.

b Among patients admitted to ICU, N = 6,693 overall, N = 4,245 for patients without multiple central lines, and N = 2,448 for patients with multiple central lines.

The presence of multiple concurrent central lines at any point during hospitalization was significantly associated with age >55 years, having a central line for at least 7 days, admission to ICU, CLABSI event (OR, 5.75; 95% CI, 4.11–8.06), and presence of a dialysis catheter (Table 4). When assessing patients with at least 2 days of concurrent multiple lines, the number of CLABSIs decreased from 97 to 79, and the OR decreased from 5.75 to 5.21 (95% CI, 3.76–7.20).

Table 4. A Comparison of Patients With Multiple Concurrent Central Line to Patients Without Multiple Concurrent Central Lines

Note. OR, odds ratio; CI, confidence interval; ICU, intensive care unit; CLABSI, central-line–associated bloodstream infection.


Using the actual number of central lines as the denominator decreased CLABSI rates by 25% in ICUs and 6% in wards compared to the NHSN method. The modified method for calculating CLABSI denominator using the actual number of central lines more accurately reflects intrinsic CLABSI risk, which increases proportionally with the number of lumens present in the central lines. The impact of the modified method was higher in ICUs because more patients in ICUs had multiple lines, reflecting the higher acuity of care in the ICU compared to the wards. These results suggest that interinstitutional comparison using the NHSN benchmark disadvantages hospitals specializing in high-acuity care, which that, by necessity, have more patients with concurrent lines. These findings may, in part, explain why a disproportionate number of major academic medical centers received penalties associated with hospital-acquired conditions, including CLABSIs, in 2015. 19 Although the NHSN risk adjustment methodology includes hospital size and medical school affiliation, accounting for multiple central lines may provide a more accurate measure of CLABSI risk and improve reliability for interinstitutional comparisons.

This is the first large-scale study exploring lumen days as a method to measure CLABSI rates. Our data show that the risk of CLABSI per lumen day was similar for central lines within and outside the ICU. The reasons for this observation need further exploration as the intensity of accession of lines (not measured) is likely greater in ICU settings. Given that the risk of infection increases with the number of lumens (and central lines), efforts to remove unnecessary lines should be emphasized. 20 Whether there are any advantages of measuring CLABSI rates per lumen day remains unclear. In addition, given the difficulty in measuring lumen days, using this measure as a denominator may not be a practical goal.

Much of the current national emphasis on CLABSI focuses on the ICU, where the sickest patients in healthcare reside. Our data are consistent with other studies that show that most CLABSIs occur outside of ICUs (60% in our study), 3 , 21 , 22 emphasizing the need to extend CLABSI prevention efforts outside the ICU. CLABSI prevention efforts have been demonstrated to be effective in ICUs and can also be adapted to other wards. 23 In addition, unneeded CVCs may be more prevalent outside of the ICU. 24 Given this and the relatively constant risk of CLABSI per lumen, removal of unnecessary lines may be especially important outside of the ICUs.

Using our modified denominator may provide some degree of risk adjustment for more ill patients, and removing unnecessary central lines should be emphasized. Adoption of a denominator accounting for multiple concurrent central lines should not be an unintended or subconscious rationalization to insert or maintain central lines that are no longer clinically indicated, and a balancing measure for concurrent central-line utilization should be considered. These findings should be considered in the context of other efforts to provide risk adjustment using comorbidities or other risk factors that can be extracted from the medical record and may be able to provide more accuracy. 25 Our method has the advantage of simplicity in only counting central lines, a task that is currently in either manual or electronic workflow for all facilities reporting to NHSN, without the need to extract other data fields for other methods such as comorbidities.

Our study has some limitations. First, in defining patients with multiple concurrent central lines, those who had only 1 central line, but had their central line replaced on any given day would be counted as having multiple central lines on the day of the replacement. However, our findings were not substantially different when using a minimum of 2 days as concurrent multiple lines. Second, because the initial study was not designed to demonstrate a causal relationship of multiple central lines with CLABSI, we could not determine whether a CLABSI occurred before or after a period with multiple concurrent central lines. Third, the study hospitals serve large oncology, transplant, and hemodialysis populations, which may limit the generalizability of our findings. Finally, by assuming that the 6% of central lines with a missing number of lumens had only 1 lumen, we likely underestimated the impact on CLABSI rates per lumen day because individuals in ICUs typically had 1.5 times more lumens than individuals in wards.

In summary, our findings suggest that current NHSN definitions may not sufficiently account for increased CLABSI risk at institutions that perform high-intensity care. The increasing penetration of sophisticated EMRs and entry of line data into these systems has the potential to make retrieval of the actual number of lines feasible. We believe that using the true number of central lines as the denominator would be an improvement over the current method of determining CLABSI rates and would help level the field for hospitals with patients of higher acuity who require multiple simultaneous central lines. Alternatively, these data can be viewed as highlighting another limitation of the current NHSN CLABSI measurement and add support to ongoing efforts to establish alternative metrics such as measuring hospital-onset bacteremia.

Author ORCIDs

Jesse Couk MD, MSc 0000-0002-2467-9519, Jesse T. Jacob MD, MSc 0000-0001-9811-6260


We thank Mitchel Klein, PhD, for his mentorship and advice on analytical approach. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Financial support

JC was supported in part by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (grant no. UL1TR000454).

Conflicts of interest

All authors report no conflicts of interest relevant to this article.


1.Dudeck, MA, Weiner, LM, Allen-Bridson, K, et al. National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) report, data summary for 2012, device-associated module. Am J Infect Control 2013;41:11481166.
2. Maki, DG, Kluger, DM, Crnich, CJ. The risk of bloodstream infection in adults with different intravascular devices: a systematic review of 200 published prospective studies. Mayo Clin Proc 2006;81:11591171.
3. Centers for Disease C, Prevention. Vital signs: central line-associated blood stream infections—United States, 2001, 2008, and 2009. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2011;60:243248.
4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Data tables from National and State Healthcare Associated Infections Progress Report, 2016. Atlanta, GA: DC; 2016.
5. Scott, RD, 2nd. The direct medical costs of healthcare-associated infections in US hospitals and the benefits of prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Published 2009. Accessed June 11, 2019.
6. Talbot, TR, Bratzler, DW, Carrico, RM, et al. Public reporting of health care-associated surveillance data: recommendations from the healthcare infection control practices advisory committee. Ann Intern Med 2013;159:631635.
7. Operational guidance for acute-care hospitals to report central-line–associated bloodstream infection (CLABSI) data to CDC’s NHSN for the purpose of fulfilling CMS’s hospital inpatient quality reporting (IQR) requirements, 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Published 2015. Accessed August 16, 2015.
8. Niedner, MF, National Association of Children’s Health, et al. The harder you look, the more you find: catheter-associated bloodstream infection surveillance variability. Am J Infect Control 2010;38:585595.
9. Steinberg, JP, Coffin, SE. Improving the central line-associated bloodstream infection surveillance definition: a work in progress. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2013;34:777779.
10. Sexton, DJ, Chen, LF, Anderson, DJ. Current definitions of central line-associated bloodstream infection: is the emperor wearing clothes? Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2010;31:12861289.
11. Concannon, C, van Wijngaarden, E, Stevens, V, Dumyati, G. The effect of multiple concurrent central venous catheters on central line-associated bloodstream infections. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2014;35:11401146.
12. Aslakson, RA, Romig, M, Galvagno, SM, et al. Effect of accounting for multiple concurrent catheters on central-line–associated bloodstream infection rates: practical data supporting a theoretical concern. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2011;32:121124.
13. Scheithauer, S, Hafner, H, Schroder, J, et al. Simultaneous placement of multiple central lines increases central-line–associated bloodstream infection rates. Am J Infect Control 2013;41:113117.
14. Talbot, TR, Johnson, JG, Anders, T, Hayes, RM. Comparison of NHSN-defined central venous catheter day counts with a method that accounts for concurrent catheters. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2015;36:107109.
15. Tejedor, SC, Garrett, G, Jacob, JT, et al. Electronic documentation of central venous catheter days: validation is essential. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2013;34:900907.
16. Horan, TC, Andrus, M, Dudeck, MA. CDC/NHSN surveillance definition of healthcare-associated infection and criteria for specific types of infections in the acute-care setting. Am J Infect Control 2008;36:309332.
17. Device-associated Module BSI. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed June 24, 2015.
18. See, I, Iwamoto, M, Allen-Bridson, K, Horan, T, Magill, SS, Thompson, ND. Mucosal barrier injury laboratory-confirmed bloodstream infection: results from a field test of a new National Healthcare Safety Network definition. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2013;34:769776.
19. Teaching hospitals hit hardest by medicare fines for patient safety. National Public Radio website. Published 2014. Accessed August 15, 2015.
20. Templeton, A, Schlegel, M, Fleisch, F, et al. Multilumen central venous catheters increase risk for catheter-related bloodstream infection: prospective surveillance study. Infection 2008;36:322327.
21. Zingg, W, Sax, H, Inan, C, et al. Hospital-wide surveillance of catheter-related bloodstream infection: from the expected to the unexpected. J Hosp Infect 2009;73:4146.
22. Marschall, J, Mermel, LA, Fakih, M, et al. Strategies to prevent central line-associated bloodstream infections in acute-care hospitals: 2014 update. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2014;35 suppl 2:S89S107.
23. Seddon, ME, Hocking, CJ, Bryce, EA, Hillman, J, McCoubrie, V. From ICU to hospital-wide: extending central-line–associated bacteraemia (CLAB) prevention. N Z Med J 2014;127:6071.
24. Tejedor, SC, Tong, D, Stein, J, et al. Temporary central venous catheter utilization patterns in a large tertiary care center: tracking the “idle central venous catheter.” Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2012;33:5057.
25. Jackson, SS, Leekha, S, Magder, LS, et al. The effect of adding comorbidities to current centers for disease control and prevention central-line–associated bloodstream infection risk-adjustment methodology. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2017;38:10191024.