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Understanding the Disinfection Process for Microorganisms

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

There is a public misconception of what sterilization is versus disinfection, and in some cases, decontamination. An example of this is the handrails at the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, which read the following "Handrails sterilized with UV-C light". The obvious misstep is that Sterilization describes a process that destroys or eliminates all forms of microbial life, and Disinfection describes a process that eliminates many or all pathogenic microorganisms, except bacterial spores, as defined by the CDC. The signs in the airport may have been intentional placed to make the general public feel better, but they are misleading.

I continue to come across individuals who believe that just spraying a disinfectant spray is the end-all be-all solution to disinfecting viruses like Covid-19. They fail to understand that a cleaning process (i.e., decontamination) is key to the inactivation of microorganisms. The CDC defines cleaning as the following: Cleaning is the removal of visible soil (e.g., organic and inorganic material) from objects and surfaces. A multi-step approach is needed, whether you are trying to disinfect or sterilize microorganisms. As indicated in the FDA guidelines "UV Lights and Lamps: Ultraviolet-C Radiation, Disinfection, and Coronavirus" :

UVC radiation can only inactivate a virus if the virus is directly exposed to the radiation. Therefore, the inactivation of viruses on surfaces may not be effective due to blocking of the UV radiation by soil, such as dust, or other contaminants such as bodily fluids.

In the article Perspective: How Cutting-Edge Technology Made for Safe Trip to the Dentist written by Lyndee Yamshon, Dr. Avi Stein's office understands the disinfection process for microorganisms. Dr. Avi Stein’s office procedure is recorded as "The rooms were cleaned with a special fogging unit with hypochlorous acid, which settles on everything without leaving residue. The acid dries after 10 minutes and is aerosolized into about 50 parts per million particles. After the pre-fogging initial clean, the room is then sprayed and wiped down with a typical cleaning fluid. After this dries, the room is sprayed one more time with hypochlorous acid".

Use a multi-step approach of cleaning and disinfecting. Read the directions on the products you are using and follow the contact times. Being diligent in the process will increase your chances of deactivating microorganisms.

At Evolved Sterile Processing, our consultants have a greater focus on sterile processing. With our decades of experience, we will help you develop better processes and educational resources for your staff.

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