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CAN A VISUALLY CLEAN SURFACE STILL HIDE DANGEROUS CONTAMINATION?

One of the biggest challenges for healthcare personnel today is ensuring that all items that come into contact with patients are clean and free of dangerous organic contaminates. This includes not just surgical instrumentation, but any and all reusable medical devices, patient care equipment, over-bed tables, call buttons, stainless steel surfaces, touchscreens, keyboards, etc., etc.1

Starting with the deadly outbreak of Covid-19 in January of 2020, the need to ensure the removal of all organic, infection causing material from hospital surfaces increased exponentially. What makes this challenge all the more daunting for healthcare personnel is that visual inspection alone of those surfaces is no guarantee that the surface is free of dangerous, microscopic contaminates. This is because microscopic viruses, bioburden and biofilm are invisible to the human eye. These invisible contaminates are a major source of hospital acquired infections (HAIs), including surgical site infections (SSIs).

When it comes to surgical instruments, we’ve always been told that “If it isn’t clean, it can’t be sterile.” As readers of this blog know, the more accurate statement is that “If it isn’t clean, it can’t be safe.” The same axiom applies to any item or high-touch surface that comes into contact with a patient while they are in the healthcare facility. If the surface of an item is not free of microscopic contamination, it can be the cause of a dangerous HAI.

“A 2011 study found that of the 80% of high-touch surfaces that passed visual assessment, only 19% were found to be microbiologically clean (Ferreira et al., 2011). Another study found that of the 82% percent of the surfaces that passed visual inspection, only 30% were found to be microbiologically clean (Griffith et al., 2000). Common organisms found on theses surfaces include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), Acinetobacter baumannii and Clostridium difficile, to name just a few.”2

All high-touch surfaces in a healthcare facility that patients come in contact with or get close to are a concern. This is because these surfaces face a high probability of becoming contaminated by airborne bacteria or viruses from infected patients who touch or come in close contact with these surfaces. Steps taken by your healthcare facility to ensure the removal of all contaminates from high-touch surfaces and medical devices will have a positive impact on reducing HAIs and SSIs. Regrettably, visual inspection alone will not change infection rates.

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