Aseptic technique is a procedure used by medical staff to prevent the spread of infection. The goal is to reach asepsis, which means an environment that is free of harmful microorganisms. Each healthcare setting has its own set of practices for achieving asepsis. Common examples include surgery rooms, clinics, and outpatient care centers.
Aseptic technique is used in various clinical settings to prevent the spread of pathogens. Like another antimicrobial process called clean technique, the primary goal of this process is to prevent harmful organisms from spreading and causing infection. The difference is aseptic technique reduces the risks of infection in the patient directly at the source. Clean technique is more focused on preventing the further spread of pathogens between other people and places.
Aseptic technique is commonly used in:
- surgery equipment
- vaginal labor
- urinary catheters
- intravenous (IV) lines
- other draining devices
Clean equipment is a primary form of aseptic technique. Certain equipment, such as needles, should always be disposed of between patients. Reusing needles and other disposable equipment can lead to a host of issues. Other types of equipment must be cleaned properly through aseptic techniques for safety. Sterilization methods include:
- electric or gas heat
- chemical treatments
Simple hand washing is another important form of aseptic technique. Ensuring that all medical staff washes their hands before and after any procedure helps to prevent the spread of pathogens that can cause infections in patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers other basic rules for infection prevention:
- better staff training on aseptic techniques
- use of chlorhexidine (an antiseptic) for post-catheter care
- antimicrobial ointment to be used on IV line exits
- proper bandaging post-operation
- wearing masks to prevent germs from spreading from the mouth through the air
Anytime your skin is opened, you’re vulnerable to infection. This is why prompt treatment for burns and wounds is so critical. If the exposure is intentional, such as in surgery, then the risk for infection still exists. The way aseptic techniques are employed can determine whether or not you will develop an infection from your procedure.
One of the most common infections stems from C. difficile. This is a bacteria that costs an estimated 14,000 American lives every year (Medline Plus). Part of this is attributed to failures in following aseptic techniques. Another problem is a lack of trained infection prevention staff.
A lack of enforced aseptic techniques can lead to a host of problems for patients. Infections of the blood and urinary tract are the most common. Other patients may experience infections at the site of performed surgeries. Not only are these types of infections emotional and financial burdens, certain infections may also turn fatal. Medline Plus reported in 2013 that bloodstream infections have increased 51 percent over the last 20 years (Medline Plus).
According to the CDC, at least 30 reports of hepatitis outbreaks were reported in healthcare settings between 2001 and 2011 (CDC). While more research is needed to determine the precise causes of such outbreaks, principles of aseptic technique can help minimize these incidents.
The outcome of aseptic technique depends on whether all procedures are thoroughly followed. Medical professionals are responsible for following all processes leading to asepsis. If you notice that a healthcare provider fails to wash hands or sterilize equipment, don’t be afraid to speak up. Doing so can help save you or a loved one from potentially fatal side effects.