Insulin pumps are the latest technology to deliver insulin to diabetics in a convenient and simple manner. While they are considered by many to be easier to keep up with versus injections and it’s related equipment, there are a few drawbacks. One of the most common concerns is infections. But just how common, and how dangerous are these infections?
Before we talk about infection, let’s discuss what insulin pumps actually do. These are small units about the size of a pocket calculator people with diabetes can use to infuse insulin into their bodies. They are mainly used for Type I diabetics to make administering insulin more convenient. Instead of having to take shots throughout the day, the pump can be set to continuously infuse a small amount of insulin under the skin, with the diabetic self-administering additional bolus doses of insulin before meals or whenever needed. A pump gives the subcutaneous infusion of insulin through plastic tubing that inserts into a large needle permanently implanted in the skin, usually around the waist. An impenetrable dressing is put over the site as well.
For someone who has had life-long diabetes, an insulin pump can be thought of by many as a godsend. They will avoid the multiple daily injections that used to be the norm. Diabetics still need to monitor their blood sugar several times a day so that insulin dosages can be adjusted based on these numbers.
It must always be remembered, an insulin pump is a mechanical device and is subject to:
- blockages in the tubing, and
- coagulation of the insulin.
And one of the most frequent complications is infection at the infusion site.
It’s very important to avoid infection around the insulin pump area. For instance, users should utilize sterile cotton swabs to kill any bacteria on the skin, dressings and sterile tape. Cleaning the area around the insertion site using Betadine instead of alcohol may also help to reduce bacteria further. Keeping the site clean and sterile is of utmost importance when using insulin pump therapy.
Most of the time, any infections that do occur will rise around the actual insertion area. One may see:
- redness, and
- pain at the infusion site.
Sometimes, higher than normal blood sugar readings are an early sign an infection is brewing. One of the most virulent types of infection can come from the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. This turns into a staph infection and may be a cause for stopping insulin pump therapy.
In order to treat an infection around the insulin pump site, doctors may recommend using a topical antibiotic cream if the infection is still in its earliest stages. If the infection has moved along further, oral antibiotic treatment will be necessary in order to prevent the person from getting a full body infection.
A staph infection can be very serious, especially for someone whose resistance is down.
Diabetics are often advised by their doctor to administer their insulin via injection until the infection at the inflamed insertion site, has totally cleared. Just moving the pump to another insertion site is not sufficient as an infection can spread to the new site.