Sychempedia – The Sterilisation & Decontamination Hub

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Q?

What methods of Sterilisation are there?

A.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, sterilisation refers to the process of making something free from bacteria or other living microorganisms. Effective sterilisation techniques are essential for maintaining a sterile environment within many industries, such as sterilising medical, laboratory and life science equipment. The 2 most common forms of sterilisation include creating a hot and dry or a hot and wet environment.

  • DRY HEAT (Bake/Flame) Leading to Dry Heat Oxidation of the microorganism
  • WET HEAT (Steam Steriliser Autoclave) Leading to Steam Coagulation of the micro-organisms

However, both these forms of sterilisation can lead to damage of the instrument, especially when dealing with complicated or technologically advanced equipment. Hence, a form of low-temperature sterilisation is required such as creating a Plasma-low temperature Chemical reaction. Plasma sterilises via a process called 'Oxidation'.  A chemical reaction is created in which all microorganisms are deactivated. One type of plasma is called Hydrogen Peroxide. The advantages of using Hydrogen Peroxide are:

  • No chemical residues
  • Safe to handle
  • Environmentally safe
  • Short Aeration time

Ethylene Oxide Chemical reaction

Ethylene Oxide is a toxic gas that leaves no residue on items it contacts. Therefore, ethylene oxide is used as a surface disinfectant in hospitals and the medical equipment industry to replace steam in the sterilisation of heat-sensitive tools and equipment, such as disposable plastic syringes.

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Q?

How can steam sterilisation be achieved?

A.

Steam sterilisation is achieved by the use of process or clean steam. The quality of steam required is dependent on the application the sterilisation is being used for. For example healthcare applications where sterilisation is being used for the processing of surgical instruments will require steam that is compliant with EN285 and the Health Technical Memorandum HTM01.01. Other applications such as the ones found within laboratory and biomedical facilities are not governed by legislative requirements and therefore are subject to the users consideration to the process results required. Without doubt sterilisation conducted with clean steam is considered to be best practice but not always justifiable commercially. In these cases process steam is utilised which is produced through the use of a lower grade of water not RO water.

Steam Quality is ascertained through consideration to:

  • The level of non-condensable gases present
  • Steam Dryness
  • Super Heat

The optimal composition of steam is 3% liquid and 97% gas. Any change in the percentage of moisture increases or decreases sterilisation time. In practice, sterilization time is calculated according to optimum steam conditions and steam’s ability to transfer energy to the non-sterile load prior to sterilization.

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Q?

What is thermal disinfection?

A.

Thermal disinfection is a method of disinfection which relies on moist heat to kill bacteria and viruses by exposure to a specific temperature for a set amount of time. The high temperature Thermal Disinfection process can destroy the proteins in viruses and bacteria and render them as dead or inert. Nosocomial infections such as Norwalk virus, MRSA, and various others effect hundreds of thousands of people globally each and every year.

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Q?

What is the difference between a Bacteria and a Virus?

A.

Although viruses and bacteria are too small to be seen without a microscope they are as different as elephants and fish. Bacteria are single-celled, relatively complex creatures with a rigid wall and a thin, rubbery membrane surrounding fluid which is inside the cell. Bacteria can reproduce on their own and fewer than 1% of bacteria cause diseases in people. Bacteria can survive in different environments, including extreme heat and cold, radioactive waste, and the human body.

Viruses on the other hand are tiny: the largest virus is smaller than the smallest bacteria. All they feature is a protein coat and a core of genetic material, either DNA or RNA. They can only reproduce by attaching themselves to cells. In most cases, they reprogram the cells to make new viruses until the cells pop and die. Unlike bacteria, viruses can't survive without a host.  In other cases, they turn normal cells into malignant or cancerous cells.

In summary to the key differences a virus is smaller than a bacteria and requires a host in order to survive whereas a bacteria can survive in many different environments. Bacteria can also be considered to be friendly to humans. Also unlike bacteria, most viruses do cause disease.

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Q?

What is the difference between cleaning, disinfection, sterilisation and decontamination?

A.

Would you be able to identify the differences between cleaning, disinfection, sterilisation and decontamination? Although similar, there are clear differences when working with infection control.

What follows are the definitions of each.

Cleaning & Disinfection: A process that removes dirt, dust, large numbers of microorganisms and the organic matter, killing most, but not all viable organisms

Sterilisation: This is a process of removing or killing all viable organisms including spores. Dead microorganisms and toxins (pyrogens) may remain.

DecontaminationA process that destroys or removes all microbial contamination to render an item or the environment completely safe

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