Healthcare Infection Prevention

Dialysis: Glove always, never pool medication

Guiding principles for a difficult setting

The following general infection control practices for hemodialysis units are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 These practices should be carried out routinely for all patients in the chronic hemodialysis setting because of the increased potential for blood contamination during hemodialysis and because many patients are colonized or infected with pathogenic bacteria.

ICPs should consult the full CDC guidelines to review additional measures to prevent transmission of hepatitis B and C viruses. In addition, additional precautions also may be necessary in some circumstances for patients at increased risk for transmission of pathogenic bacteria, including antimicrobial-resistant strains.

Overall, surveillance for infections and other adverse events is critical to monitor the effectiveness of infection control practices. By the same token, training and education of both staff members and patients can ensure that appropriate infection control behaviors and techniques are carried out. General measures include:

During the process of hemodialysis, exposure to blood and potentially contaminated items can be routinely anticipated; thus, gloves are required whenever caring for a patient or touching the patient’s equipment. To facilitate glove use, a supply of clean nonsterile gloves and a glove discard container should be placed near each dialysis station.

Hands always should be washed after gloves are removed and between patient contacts, as well as after touching blood, body fluids, secretions, excretions, and contaminated items. A sufficient number of sinks with warm water and soap should be available to facilitate hand washing. If hands are not visibly soiled, use of a waterless antiseptic hand rub can be substituted for hand washing.

Staff members should wear gowns, face shields, eye wear, or masks to protect themselves and prevent soiling of clothing when performing procedures during which spurting or spattering of blood might occur (e.g., during initiation and termination of dialysis, cleaning of dialyzers, and centrifugation of blood). Such protective clothing or gear should be changed if it becomes soiled with blood, body fluids, secretions, or excretions.

Any item taken to a patient’s dialysis station could become contaminated with blood and other body fluids and serve as a vehicle of transmission to other patients either directly or by contamination of the hands of personnel. Therefore, items taken to a patient’s dialysis station, including those placed on top of dialysis machines, should either be disposed of, dedicated for use only on a single patient, or cleaned and disinfected before being returned to a common clean area or used for other patients. Unused medications or supplies (e.g., syringes, alcohol swabs) taken to the patient’s station should not be returned to a common clean area or used on other patients.

Additional measures to prevent contamination of clean or sterile items include: a) preparing medications in a room or area separated from the patient treatment area and designated only for medications; b) not handling or storing contaminated (i.e., used) supplies, equipment, blood samples, or biohazard containers in areas where medications and clean (i.e., unused) equipment and supplies are handled; and c) delivering medications separately to each patient.

Intravenous medication vials labeled for single use, including erythropoietin, should not be punctured more than once. Once a needle has entered a vial labeled for single use, the sterility of the product no longer can be guaranteed. Residual medication from two or more vials should not be pooled into a single vial.

Common carts should not be used within the patient treatment area to prepare or distribute medications. If trays are used to distribute medications, clean them before using for a different patient. If a common supply cart is used to store clean supplies in the patient treatment area, this cart should remain in a designated area at a sufficient distance from patient stations to avoid contamination with blood. Such carts should not be moved between stations to distribute supplies.

Staff members should not eat, drink, or smoke in the dialysis treatment area or in the laboratory. However, patients can be served meals or eat food brought from home at their dialysis station. The glasses, dishes, and other utensils should be cleaned in the usual manner; no special care of these items is needed.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendations for preventing transmission of infections among chronic hemodialysis patients. MMWR 2001; 50:(RR05)1-43.