Venipuncture is the removal of blood from a vein in the arm, hand, wrist or ankle with a syringe, Vacutainer tube or winged infusion set. Infection at the injection site is rare, but you should know what to look for, how to avoid it and what steps to take if it occurs.
When you go to a hospital, lab or doctor's office and have blood drawn for testing, there should be very clean conditions. The equipment should be sterilized and surfaces cleaned with alcohol or a commercial medical cleaner. Every needle should come out of a sealed package and screwed on to a new flange, and all Vacutainers that are vacuum-sealed to draw blood should be checked for expiration date. If all this is done correctly, there should be no way for the procedure to cause an infection at the injection site.
If you look at the injection site and see a small raised bump that is dark bluish in color, this is not an infection, it is a hematoma. Sometimes when blood is drawn, the needle size might be too small or a vein starts to collapse a bit and blood rushes to the site and gathers where the needle was inserted. A hematoma is like a bruise and needs no further medical attention; it will go away on its own in a few days.
You may get bruising at the site of a needle injection. It can be very large, seeming to cover the entire inside of your elbow. It might be tender to the touch or even painful. But it is not an infection and it will go away on its own.
Redness, Swelling and Fever
Even with the best medical practices you can still contract an infection at the site of injection. Small particles of dirt or pathogens can get in and cause redness, swelling and fever. Make sure your phlebotomist cleans the area with alcohol before injection. If you do see redness and swelling at the site, first try topical antibacterial ointment. It's available over the counter at pharmacies and grocery stores. If you don't see improvement, or if you have a fever of over 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit or above, see a medical professional. You may need oral antibiotics or antibiotics by injection.
Avoiding Venipuncture Infections
Make sure the area where you are having your blood drawn is clean and sanitary. Ask your phlebotomist if she is using a new needle and to make sure the Vacutainers are not expired. Never accept a used needle, even if it has been cleaned or autoclaved. There is no contemporary medical need to reuse needles. After the blood draw, a band-aid should be applied; if not, ask for one. This will help prevent infection.
Rebecca Cioffi worked in the entertainment industry for almost 20 years and is currently living in Phoenix, Ariz., where she is working on a book. She is also a phlebotomist.