Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of tunneling short-term central venous catheters to prevent catheter-related infections.
Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, conference proceedings, citation review of relevant primary and review articles, personal files, and contact with expert informants.
Study selection: From a pool of 225 randomized, controlled trials of venous and arterial catheter management, we identified 12 relevant trials and included seven of these trials in the analysis.
Data extraction: In duplicate, independently, we abstracted data on the population, intervention, outcomes, and methodologic quality.
Data synthesis: Tunneling decreased bacterial colonization of the catheter by 39% (relative risk of 0.61; 95% confidence interval [CI] of 0.39 to 0.95) and decreased catheter-related sepsis with bacteriologic confirmation by 44% (relative risk of 0.56; 95% CI of 0.31 to 1) in comparison with standard placement. The majority of the benefit in the decreased rate of catheter-sepsis came from one trial at the internal jugular site (relative risk of 0.30, 95% CI of 0.10 to 0.89) and the reduction in risk was not significant when the data from five subclavian catheter trials were pooled (relative risk of 0.71, 95% CI of 0.36 to 1.43). Tunneling was not associated with increased risk of mechanical complications from placement or technical difficulties during placement. However, this outcome was not rigorously evaluated.
Conclusions: Tunneling decreases central venous catheter-related infections. However, current evidence does not support routine tunneling until its efficacy is evaluated at different placement sites and relative to other interventions.