Biofilms and Device-Associated Infections

Rodney M. Donlan, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlanta, Georgia, USA.


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2001;7(2) 

In This Article

Urinary Catheter Biofilms

Urinary catheters are tubular latex or silicone devices, which when inserted may readily acquire biofilms on the inner or outer surfaces. The organisms commonly contaminating these devices and developing biofilms are S. epidermidis, Enterococcus faecalis, E. coli, Proteus mirabilis, P. aeruginosa, K. pneumoniae, and other gram-negative organisms[1]. The longer the urinary catheter remains in place, the greater the tendency of these organisms to develop biofilms and result in urinary tract infections. For example, 10% to 50% of patients undergoing short-term urinary catheterization (7 days) but virtually all patients undergoing long-term catheterization (>28 days) become infected[1]. Brisset et al.[26] found that adhesion to catheter materials was dependent on the hydrophobicity of both the organisms and the surfaces; catheters displaying both hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions allowed colonization of the widest variety of organisms. Divalent cations (calcium and magnesium) and increase in urinary pH and ionic strength all resulted in an increase in bacterial attachment. Tunney et al.[27] stated that no single material is more effective in preventing colonization, including silicone, polyurethane, composite biomaterials, or hydrogel-coated materials. Certain component organisms of these biofilms produce urease, which hydrolyzes the urea in the patient's urine to ammonium hydroxide. The elevated pH that results at the biofilm-urine interface results in precipitation of minerals such as struvite and hydroxyapatite. These mineral-containing biofilms form encrustations that may completely block the inner lumen of the catheter[27]. Bacteria may ascend the inner lumen into the patient's bladder in 1 to 3 days[28]; this rate may be influenced by the presence of swarming organisms such as Proteus spp. (D. Stickler, pers. comm.). Several strategies have been attempted to control urinary catheter biofilms: antimicrobial ointments and lubricants, bladder instillation or irrigation, antimicrobial agents in collection bags, impregnation of the catheter with antimicrobial agents such as silver oxide, or use of systemic antibiotics[29]. Most such strategies have been ineffective, although silver-impregnated catheters delayed onset of bacteriuria for up to 4 days. In a rabbit model, biofilms on Foley catheter surfaces were highly resistant to high levels of amdinocillin, a beta-lactam antibiotic[30]. However, Stickler et al.[31] found that treatment of a patient with a polymicrobial biofilm-infected catheter with ciprofloxacin allowed the catheter to clear and provide uninterrupted drainage for 10 weeks. Morris et al.[32] found that time to blockage of catheters in a laboratory model system was shortest for hydrogel- or silver-coated latex catheters and longest for an Eschmann Folatex S All Silicone catheter (Portex Ltd., Hythe, Kent, England). Biofilms of several gram-negative organisms were reduced by exposure to mandelic acid plus lactic acid[33]. In a study in which ciprofloxacin-containing liposomes were coated onto a hydrogel-containing Foley catheter and exposed in a rabbit model, the time to development of bacteriuria was double that with untreated catheters, although infection ultimately occurred in the rabbits with treated catheters[34].


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