Sterility in Medicine

We are lucky to live in this century, one where medicines have been developed to combat most ailments, where we can be sure that the medicines we have are safe and sterile when needed and if we need a surgery, that the tools and equipment needed is all safe, clean and germ free.

Throughout history, they didn’t give much thought to keeping things clean and sterile, but luckily today we know that it is used to promote health and to eliminate the risk of contamination. What does being sterile mean though? Well, sterility is defined as the complete absence of any viable microorganism whether on a surgical tool, on equipment or in medicines themselves.

There are a few different ways that sterility is achieved in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. The first is using steam. This technique was actually invented back in the 1880’s by a man called Charles Chamberland. He came up with the autoclave, a steam sterilizer that used water to create steam to clean surgical tools and kill bacteria between patients. Today we still use this technique to clean glassware and surgical instruments.

What about things that can’t withstand high temperatures? In the case of sensitive electronic components, plastics and cardboard that need to be sterilized, the technique is EtO or EO, and it uses Ethylene Oxide gas as the sanitizing agent.

Another way to sanitize things is by the use of dry heat. This is used for things like needles and metal instruments that can get very hot with no worry that they will disintegrate.

But what about medicines themselves? They can’t be steamed, but they can go through the process known as aseptic processing. This takes a sterile medicine and packages it in a sterile container using flash heating. It is a task that also requires the use of clean rooms, bacteria retaining filters and dry heat. By using this technique however, drugs can be imported and exported anywhere in the world without the need for refrigeration and will be sterile when they arrive at the patient.

Sterile medicines, equipment and tools all help to provide the best care possible to us when we are sick. We don’t have to worry about contamination as the risks for it is low if all temperatures, gases, humidity and pressure levels have been accurately monitored throughout the sterilization process to ensure validity and effectiveness. Medicine has come a long way and the results are safer and more reliable than ever before.