Critically ill surgical patients are always at increased risk of actual or potentially life-threatening health complications. Central/peripheral venous lines form a key part of their care. We review the current evidence on incidence of central and peripheral venous catheter-related bloodstream infections in critically ill surgical patients, and outline pathways for prevention and intervention. An extensive systematic electronic search was carried out on the relevant databases. Articles were considered suitable for inclusion if they investigated catheter colonisation and catheter-related bloodstream infection. Two independent reviewers engaged in selecting the appropriate articles in line with our protocol retrieved 8 articles published from 1999 to 2011. Outcomes on CVC colonisation and infections were investigated in six studies; four of which were prospective cohort studies, one prospective longitudinal study and one retrospective cohort study. Outcomes relating only to PICCs were reported in one prospective randomised trial. We identified only one study that compared CVC- and PICC-related complications in surgical intensive care units. Although our search protocol may not have yielded an exhaustive list we have identified a key deficiency in the literature, namely a paucity of studies investigating the incidence of CVC- and PICC-related bloodstream infection in exclusively critically ill surgical populations. In summary, the diverse definitions for the diagnosis of central and peripheral venous catheter-related bloodstream infections along with the vastly different sample size and extremely small PICC population size has, predictably, yielded inconsistent findings. Our current understanding is still limited; the studies we have identified do point us towards some tentative understanding that the CVC/PICC performance remains inconclusive.