This lesson will discuss the differences between antisepsis, disinfection, and sterilization as well as some of the methods used for sterilization and antiseptic compounds you may have used yourself.
Ways to Defend Against Infection
Whether you are going in for surgery or are just cleaning your house, there are all sorts of different ways by which you can try to kill potentially deadly bacteria, viruses, and other harmful pathogens.
Three of these ways are antisepsis, disinfectants and sterilization.These three different techniques are super important in keeping a clean home or in preventing potentially deadly infections during surgery. We’ll see how these two seemingly different actions, cleaning the house and surgery, may actually overlap.
In the doctor’s office, or at home, someone almost certainly performed a task called disinfection. Disinfection is the process of destroying and eliminating almost all of the microorganisms on inanimate objects and surfaces.
If that definition confused you then don’t worry. I am 99.9% sure you intrinsically know what this actually means. For, if you’ve ever seen a commercial touting that a certain spray kills 99.9% of germs, then you were dealing with something called a disinfectant.This disinfectant is sprayed on inanimate, or non-living, objects, such as windows, your kitchen’s countertops, and the cabinets in a doctor’s office, to eliminate virtually all living microorganisms on that object or surface.
The key thing to remember is that disinfectants do not eliminate all microorganisms and are used on inanimate, or non-living, objects. Furthermore, the amount and type of microorganism killed not only depends on the kind of organisms being targeted, such as a bacteria, viruses, or fungi, but also the type of disinfectant used.That’s because not all disinfectants can get every type of microorganism, and even the best disinfectants may not work very well if the temperature isn’t just right, the concentration of the disinfectant is off, or there is a lot of dirt on the surface of the object that must be penetrated.That’s why prior to disinfecting something like a toy that was lying around outside, it’s important to clean off any dirt and debris you can see with your naked eye prior to using a disinfectant that kills the microorganisms that you cannot see. Other factors, such as the type of surface being disinfected, the length of time the disinfectant is used for, and the way the disinfectant is applied may also influence its effectiveness.As a morbid metaphor, you can compare the effectiveness of a disinfectant on a certain microorganism to the way a murderer (the disinfectant) may try to kill a person (the microorganism). For example, someone may try to kill a person by dropping them into the sea, far from shore, in the hopes that the person will drown.
But if that person is a good swimmer, then that method of killing won’t be as effective as frying that person to death instead. That’s why you have to be careful in which disinfectant you use to kill a certain type of microorganism.Finally, some disinfectants kill microorganisms outright while others simply inhibit their growth.
If a disinfectant ends in the suffix -cidal, such as bactericidal, then it kills that type of microorganism. However, if it ends in the term -static, such as bacteriostatic, then it inhibits the growth of that microorganism. In the case of the latter, the bacteria will eventually die due to something like old age, and because they couldn’t have children, theoretically no more bacteria should be left after a certain period of time.
In any case, disinfection is in slight contrast to something known as sterilization. Sterilization is the destruction of all microorganisms on an inanimate surface or object. As you can tell, both sterilization and disinfection work on inanimate objects or surfaces. However, sterilization gets all, as opposed to most, microorganisms.
It’s unequivocal. It’s either all or nothing.Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that you went ahead and sterilized something like your kitchen countertop. This would be very difficult, expensive, and dangerous to do unless you are very well trained and have a lot of nifty chemicals or equipment.However, sterilization is very important in places like a hospital, where a doctor or surgeon will need to use surgical instruments for a certain procedure.
These surgical instruments must be sterile prior to use. That’s because if they have even one little microorganism on it and that microorganism jumps off of the surgical instrument and into the cut the surgeon makes into your body, you can get a life-threatening infection!The most common way by which objects, such as surgical instruments, are sterilized is through a process known as autoclaving. This is a procedure that uses steam under pressure, to destroy all living microorganisms on inanimate objects and surfaces.The basic way by which an autoclave works is pretty easy to understand. Whenever anything, including steam, is put under high pressure, it heats up to a very high temperature.
This high temperature is then used to kill even the hardiest of microorganisms, such as bacterial endospores, which are typically resistant to high temperatures. However, even endospores cannot withstand the super high temperatures the autoclave produces and therefore they end up dying along with any other pathogens located on the surgical instruments.You can basically liken this procedure to being stuck into an extremely hot sauna with an elephant sitting on your chest. If the pressure from the elephant on your chest doesn’t squish you to death, then the super high heat that is generated will essentially boil you alive and you’ll end up dying anyways. Nevertheless, autoclaving isn’t the only method of sterilization. Gases, such as ethylene oxide, and cold chemical liquid sterilants can be used in addition to certain methods of filtration.
While disinfection and sterilization are used for inanimate objects, we must sometimes try and destroy bacteria on living things, such as our skin after a cut or prior to surgery.
The destruction or prevention of growth of most pathogens on living tissue is called antisepsis. Note that like disinfection, most, but not all, microorganisms are killed, and unlike both sterilization and disinfection, antisepsis refers to living tissue. A substance that performs this process is known as an antiseptic.You have undoubtedly used an antiseptic before. Recall the last time you cut yourself and cleaned your wound.
You probably used some alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or some other substance to clean the wound as best as you could. Those are all examples of antiseptics, many of which, among others such as iodine, are also used in hospital settings to clean the skin of a patient prior to making a surgical incision.However, you must remember that no matter which compound you use on your body to try and kill microorganisms located on it, it is never sterile. Therefore, if anyone ever tells you that you have sterilized your skin after using some rubbing alcohol on it, they are not using proper terminology. Skin is never sterile.
And as a quick side note, it’s best to avoid using certain antiseptics, such as hydrogen peroxide, on open wounds, especially for too long of a time, as they may actually damage your body’s healthy cells.
So, as a review, recall that in the doctor’s office, or at home, someone almost certainly performed a task called disinfection. Disinfection is the process of destroying and eliminating almost all of the microorganisms on inanimate objects and surfaces.Disinfection is in slight contrast to something known as sterilization. Sterilization is the destruction of all microorganisms on an inanimate surface or object.The most common way by which objects, such as surgical instruments, are sterilized is through a process known as autoclaving. This is a procedure that uses steam under pressure, to destroy all living microorganisms on inanimate objects and surfaces.
Finally, the destruction or prevention of growth of most pathogens on living tissue is called antisepsis. Note that like disinfection, most, but not all microorganisms are killed, and unlike both sterilization and disinfection, antisepsis refers to living tissue. A substance that is used for antisepsis is known as an antiseptic.
The information gained from this lesson will help you compare and contrast the destruction of microorganisms through disinfection, sterilization and antisepsis.