The sterilization of medical equipment, that is to say the operation of destroying all microorganisms potentially harmful to health such as bacteria, viruses or fungi, is a guarantee of safety on the one hand for patients but also for health professionals who use this material regularly.
Sterilization prevents the transmission of health-related infections that can be serious. This operation, which guarantees safe medical procedures, is governed by very specific European and French directives. According to health actors and their special needs, there are different types of sterilization of medical equipment.
Why sterilize medical equipment?
All health professionals, from the surgeon to the dentist, through the general practitioner or the nurse, must ensure their patients, as well as them, impeccable hygiene of their medical equipment to minimize the transmission of diseases and infections. The healthcare-associated infectionsare those that occur at the beginning or end of a patient’s care by a health professional during a diagnosis, preventive care, therapy or operation. Those contracted in a health facility are called nosocomial infections. The factors causing these care-associated infections may be the environment in which the care is delivered, the quality of the procedures, the equipment used and the patient’s state of health.
In order to avoid any transmission of bacteria by medical equipment, healthcare providers must meet very specific European and French standards and directives regarding disinfection and sterilization. All stages of sterilization of medical equipment must follow specific procedures and also be traceable to ensure maximum safety.
If disinfection destroys a large part of the micro-organisms that can cause diseases and infections for the patient, sterilization goes further by destroying both antimicrobial agents and microbial bodies. Sterilization is essential for all medical instruments (syringes, needles, dental equipment, surgical equipment, etc.) used for actions that affect the skin and tissues. It is a process that is durable, unlike disinfection, if the material is kept sterile in suitable packaging.
Different methods of sterilization of medical equipment
Whatever the method of sterilization adopted, the medical equipment must be thoroughly cleaned, brushed and if necessary passed through a chemical disinfectant beforehand to remove all substances likely to be infected, such as pus or blood, for example.
Sterilization by saturated water vapor
Steam sterilization uses an autoclave, a type of pressure cooker that uses high temperature steam, combined with high pressure, as a sterilant, into which medical equipment and clothing is inserted. High pressure steam has the property of killing microorganisms and infectious biological materials such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. This method is the reference method in the hospital environment. It’s the fastest and the most reliable. Thanks to autoclaves that exist in several sizes, sterilization by saturated water vapor is also ideal for dentists and general practitioners.
Sterilization by dry heat
This method is practiced through a hot air sterilizer, called poupinel. It is used for all medical equipment that can not be in contact with water vapor (chrome instruments, some glass materials or non-stainless steel).
Sterilization by Ethylene Oxide
This type of ethylene oxide gas sterilization is used for medical equipment that does not support high temperatures such as that which is coated with plastic or equipped with electronic components.