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What is sterilization?

Sterilization refers to a process used in healthcare facilities to eliminate or destroy all microbial life. It can be conducted using chemical or physical methods such as applying heat, chemicals, radiation, high pressure, or filtration. Heating is the most common method of sterilization, with the degree of sterilization being dependent on the temperature and duration of the applied heat.

Sterilization differs from disinfection in that disinfection includes the elimination of many, but not all, pathogenic microorganisms, and does not include bacterial spores.

Some agents of sterilization include:

  • Dry heat
  • Steam under pressure
  • Hydrogen peroxide gas plasma
  • Ethylene oxide (EtO) gas
  • Liquid chemicals

All items that come into contact with sterile body tissues or fluids must be sterilized. This includes:

Why is sterilization important in healthcare?

Sterilization is crucial in healthcare because it ensures that surgical and medical instruments do not infect patients by transmitting infectious pathogens.

Proper sterilization of medical items increases patient safety and reduces healthcare associated infections (HAIs).