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Understanding The Use Of Steam Sterilization In Operating Room Spaces

by Faith Perkins

If you are planning a medical volunteer trip to Uganda, Nepal, Peru, Costa Rica, or another location, then you may be asked to assist physicians in sterile environments. These environments include surgical operating rooms and spaces where bacteria infection risks are extremely high. To help reduce some of these risks, sterilization is required. There are a wide variety of tools and methods used to sterilize equipment as well as spaces. Steam sterilization is utilized most often with the help of operating room sterilizers. Keep reading to understand the sterilization as well as the equipment that may be used.

What Is Stem Sterilization?

Steam sterilization is the most common, efficient, and reliable type of sterilization that can be used both inside and outside operating rooms. The process involves the use of moist heat in the form of steam. Not only is the sterilization used for non-porous instruments like scalpels and forceps, but it also helps to clean porous garments that may have come into contact with bacteria and biological contaminants. Specifically, steam can penetrate surfaces to sterilize them.

One of the main benefits of using steam is the fact that it is inexpensive. Water alone is used to create the heat, and the steam kills bacteria as well as mold and fungal spores. Steam sterilization machines release streams of steam that are high pressured. This helps to expose all items within the device to direct and constant heat to kill microorganisms. Also, high levels of pressure allow the device to reach higher temperatures within a shorter period of time. 

In general, the steam used in the device will reach temperatures as high as about 250 degrees Fahrenheit to about 273 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is more than high enough to kill microbes. Specifically, the temperature kills bacteria and fungal spores and renders viruses inactive. Virus inactivity requires higher temperature ranges than ones needed to kill bacteria, so this is one reason why such high heats are required. 

How Does An Operating Room Sterilizer Work?

Operating room sterilizers are steam devices. Gravity displacement autoclaves as well as high-speed vacuum devices may be used. Gravity displacement devices allow you to place instruments and tools in a chamber. When the door to the sterilizer is closed, steam is forced into small openings on the side or top of the chamber. The steam forces air out of the bottom of the device, and the moist heat sterilizes as it moves down through the chamber. Autoclave or gravity displacement sterilizers are extremely common, but they do require you to sterilize for a relatively long period of time. 

Vacuum sterilizers also force steam through openings in the closed sterilizer chamber. However, air within the chamber is forcefully removed with the assistance of a vacuum pump. Air is removed before steam is pumped in, and this creates a vacuum in the chamber. The vacuum helps to force the steam into all the spaces within the sterilizer within a short period of time. The result is faster and more accurate sterilization. Also, the device helps to force steam into porous items, like cloths.

Most vacuum sterilizers have monitors and alarms that help to alert you if air is not successfully removed from the chamber before steam enters the space. This cuts down on possible interruptions in the sterilization process.

Flush sterilization machines that involve the cyclic removal of air and the pumping of steam into the chamber to clean items are sometimes used as well. However, they are less common than autoclave and vacuum machines.

If you are interested in a medical volunteer position, then you may be asked to assist within operating rooms or sterile spaces. This may also mean that you will come into contact with operating room sterilization machines. These machines are incredibly important and it is wise to seek assistance from a designated professional before using one.