Most people try to avoid viruses, but sterile processors live for daily brushes with them. How can a sterile processor stay safe and protect the patients they serve?
When it comes to viruses, the global pandemic has inspired a daily diet of education in what they are, how they mutate and ways to avoid having them invade human bodies.
But for those who work in sterile processing, the challenges of battling the tiny enemies, that aren’t even living, are inescapable, whether those viruses are hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV SARS-CoV-2, or something else entirely.
Dr. Wava Truscott, president and founder of Truscott Medsci Associates, who has worked in the medical device industry for 37 years, reminds listeners in a recent Beyond Clean Podcast entitled “Viruses & The Technicians Who Kill Them,” that viruses are 10 to 100 times smaller than bacteria. They require an electron microscope that takes up half a room to even detect.
Whereas bacteria have both RNA and DNA and can multiply by themselves, as they sometimes do inside endoscopes that contain food and moisture, viruses cannot. A virus has either RNA or DNA but not both. They need a human cell, to multiply.
Whether it is through droplets, or a splash or fine aerosolization, viruses take advantage of any chance to travel, so those in sterile processing, need to stay vigilant for their own safety and that of others. The multi-step processes of sterile processing accentuate the risk of infection through such activities as rinsing brushes under water which creates aerosolization.
Just like frontline physicians, nurses and RTs, it is essential for sterile processors to wear PPE, masks and face shields that protect mucosal membranes which are especially prone to invasion by viruses.
Truscott even suggests using respirators because droplets can be small enough to inhale around the edge of a mask.
“If you’re doing ultrasonic cleaning, first of all, I’ve got to emphasize, they do create aerosols,” Truscott says. “Those aerosols are very tiny. You don’t see them coming up and they are going into the air. You’ve got to put the lid on. You’ve got to keep it on the minute you start it. And until it is totally done.”
Sterile processors should be wary of contracting far more than just the obvious infections, she says.
“I don’t think we always know all the viruses that could potentially contaminate us or affect us,” she warns.
Sterile processors are the first line of defense in the infection prevention chain — an essential role with not enough people to do it. It’s one of the many areas of medicine where having strong mentors can help. Both the sterile processors and the patients who rely on them for clean, safe instruments are better served when collective knowledge is passed on.
“In healthcare, keeping knowledge and information close to the vest is not just unhelpful; it can be downright dangerous and could negatively impact patient and employee safety,” said Natalie Lind, CRCST, CHL, FCS, IAHCSMM’s Director of Education in Healthcare Purchasing News.
Because sterile processing is a complex process which sometimes takes as many as 100 steps to clean a device, there is plenty of room for human error and ample opportunity for every employee in a department to make a difference in the safety of both colleagues and their patients by speaking up when appropriate.
In the healthcare world especially, it is critical for patient safety that no steps are skipped and that procedures are based on best practices, in accordance with established standards and guidelines.
Mentorship can build leadership skills and confidence and upgrade the performance of the whole team. It also can reduce training costs, encourage employee retention in a field struggling with staffing shortages, and encourage job satisfaction. It can even prevent mistakes and infection from occurring.
Click here to hear a podcast by the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management ( IAHCSMM) on Utilizing Mentors in Sterile Processing.
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