Surface heparinization of central venous catheters has earlier been shown to reduce the frequency of bacterial colonization and septicaemia. The present study was undertaken to investigate the benefit of surface heparinization of external ventricular drainage (EVD) catheters in relation to bacterial colonization, as measured by bacterial growth and examination by a 16S-rRNA PCR assay, of catheters and of samples of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Ninety-eight heparinized and one hundred unheparinized EVD catheters from the same batch of catheters were used. Twenty point five percent of the heparinized and 22.8% (p = 0.63) of the unheparinized EVD catheters were colonized with bacteria. Culture of CSF, which is the definition of clinical infection in this study, yielded growth in 10.3% of patients with heparinized and in 6.3% (p = 0.18) of those with unheparinized catheters. PCR examination yielded positive signal in 31.3% of patients with heparinized catheters and in 37.7% (p = 0.061) of patients without (CSF and catheters). In the subgroup of patients with subarachnoid haemorrhages, there was a tendency, though not statistically significant, towards a lowered frequency of colonization with 23.1% for heparinized and 33.3% (p = 0.31) for unheparinized catheters. PCR examination did not contribute any further to the diagnostic procedure in the patients concerned. The EVD catheters are skin-penetrating devices and contamination from the skin flora is common. Skin cultures, obtained after skin disinfection and insertion of catheters, showed growth of bacteria in 62% of the patients.