Disinfection and sterilization during an epidemic protect against infection. How to do it at home?

In many places, such as hospitals, private medical and dental clinics, the requirements of the adequate sanitary authorities are applied on a daily basis. These organs set out the precise rules for disinfection and sterilization. They're called the decontamination sequence. What exactly are these rules and how can we apply them at our home? How to disinfect hands, objects and surfaces during a pandemic? What you have to remember?

Hygiene and disinfection during a pandemic – Why is that so important?

No one thought that in the beginning of 2020 the whole world would have to face the coronavirus pandemic causing an acute, infectious respiratory disease: COVID-19. On Wednesday 11 March, the World Health Organization announced that the epidemic of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, can already be called a pandemic. This word comes from the Greek word “pandemos”, where “pan” means “everyone” and “demos” means “people”, “population”. According to the definition, it is an epidemic “in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world”. There is no strict threshold for cases of illness or death. The CDC, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes it as an epidemic “that is spread over several countries or continents. It usually affects a large number of people”. Initially, epidemics develop on a local scale, then on an international scale, within one continent, followed by secondary outbreaks on subsequent continents. The last pandemic occurred in 2009 – it was the swine flu H1N1 pandemic. This virus has infected a quarter of the global population. Diseases that cause pandemics are most often viral and highly contagious, with mainly droplet route of infection. Many patients present harmless symptoms resembling a cold or typical flu. However, when it comes to disease’s complications, they can be even deadly, especially for people already suffering from other diseases or seniors and patients with weak immunity response. These are the characteristics that currently describe the spreading coronavirus pandemic. Viral infection is a disease caused by the presence of viruses in the organism. These microorganisms are the most common cause of respiratory diseases. The usual infectious viral diseases include, among others, seasonal influenza, herpes labialis, hepatitis B, HIV infection and childhood infectious diseases such as chickenpox, rubella, and mumps. Transmission and infection processes may happen in different ways – it all depends on the type of virus. The infection might be caused by contact with the patient or the carrier via droplet route, through the contaminated surfaces which had been touched by the infected person, through damaged skin and through contact with saliva, blood and other body fluids. That is why it is so important to maintain proper hygiene of hands, surfaces and objects – not only in times of danger, but always, at home too.

Hand hygiene and hand disinfection

The basis of hygiene during coronavirus danger is frequent hand washing. This is an essential measure to limit the spread of infections. This action is crucial in the fight against viruses and other pathogens. Not only viruses, but also bacteria, fungi and other dangerous microorganisms accumulate continuously on our hands. Dirty hand diseases include diarrhea, food poisoning, salmonella, hepatitis A and flu. Unfortunately, the statistics are very worrying. It is estimated that every fourth woman and every second man do not wash their hands after using the toilet, and every fifth Pole does not wash their hands after returning home. And it is not enough to rinse your hands under running water – hands should be washed properly. No expensive means are needed for this – just warm water and soap. In the case of coronavirus, which is a shielding virus susceptible to lipid solvents, soap is as effective as disinfectant fluids with an alcohol content of over 65%. Scientific research shows that washing hands thoroughly enough reduces the risk of getting common infectious diseases by up to half.

When should I wash my hands?

  • after returning home,
  • after using the toilet,
  • before and after meal preparation,
  • after contact with animals,
  • after contact with a sick person,
  • after contact with blood and other body fluids,
  • after cleaning, throwing away trash,
  • after holding money,
  • after sneezing, coughing, cleaning your nose.

If you are away from home and you cannot wash your hands often, antibacterial liquids and gels with an alcohol content of over 65% will be useful. Each touch of a handle, elevator buttons or a banknote can cause up to 10 000 cells of various dangerous germs to get on our hands. To reduce contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, it is advisable, for example, to open the door with your elbow, close the door with your foot and, after washing your hands in public restroom, open the door with a piece of paper towel.

How to wash your hands properly?

First of all, wash them for at least 30 seconds.

  1. Moisten your hands with warm water and apply liquid soap onto your palm.
  2. Start washing from the inner surfaces, then weave your hands and wash the areas between your fingers, thumbs, the top of one hand inside the other and alternately, and then wash your wrists.
  3. The final step is to rinse the soap thoroughly and dry your hands, preferably with a dryer or disposable paper towel.

How to disinfect hands properly?

Follow the steps below:

  1. Apply enough amount of disinfectant so that the hands are completely moistened.
  2. Rub the palm against the palm, spreading the gel/liquid over their entire surface.
  3. Rub the top of one hand inside the other and alternately.
  4. Splice the fingers and rub the inner part of one hand against the other.
  5. Rub the upper part of the fingers of the right hand against the inner part of the left hand and vice versa, with a rotary motion.
  6. Disinfect the thumbs.
  7. With a circular motion of the right hand's fingertips, rub the inner surface of the left hand and inversely.

Disinfection of small objects: phone, keys, payment cards and other things

During the current pandemic it is not enough to wash your hands frequently. Sometimes we forget to disinfect small everyday items such as the phone, keys and payment cards. The WHO informs that depending on, among others the type of surface and ambient temperature, the coronavirus can survive on them even a few days. For electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers, do not disinfect them with high-proof alcohol, such as spirit. Too strong an agent can cause equipment failure. Our phone should be disinfected every day. It is best to choose a ready-made handkerchief moistened with alcohol, it can be also a gauze or a disposable cotton cloth. As for the payment card, it can be washed with a tissue soaked in isopropyl alcohol, or washed with soap under running water. However, it should not be placed in hot water or “disinfected” in the oven. The keys can also be washed with soap and water. In case of soiling in hard-to-reach areas, help yourself with an old toothbrush.

Disinfection of larger objects: shoes, clothing, leather goods

Viruses and other pathogens on clothing live very short lives. Therefore, it is recommended to open the handles with an elbow, which is the safest way in times of epidemics. Ordinary washing of clothes and textiles will remove possible pathogens from their surface. It is best to use special shoe cleaners and disinfectants to clean shoes and leather products. In addition, personal protective equipment such as disposable masks and gloves should be used as intended and not be reused even after disinfection.

Professional sterilization sequence – disinfection vs. sterilization

Sterilization is a process that destroys all kinds of microorganisms, including their spore forms. An instrument that is sterile, i.e. has undergone a sterilization process, is completely safe for the human organism and free of 100% of harmful pathogens. For sterilization to be effective, the material must be properly prepared, the process itself must be carried out correctly and the instruments must be stored properly after sterilization. As for the disinfection, it is the process by which only the vegetative forms of the microorganisms are destroyed. For the disinfection and subsequent sterilization process in the autoclave to be carried out correctly, the decontamination (sterilization) sequence must be properly organized. Many parlors are obliged to maintain the correct decontamination sequence. These are places where the continuity of the skin is or may be interrupted and medical procedures are carried out, e.g. hospitals, doctor's offices, dentists, beauty parlors, hairdressers, and tattoo studios. The point of proper decontamination sequence is the preparation of several isolated sections, for each sterilization stage, placed in the right order, separated from each other (in order to not transfer the pathogens).

  1. The first step is initial disinfection performed in disinfectant solution or with an ultrasonic cleaner.
  2. The instruments are then washed under running water and disinfected in a specially designed container.
  3. The next step is to rinse the tools with distilled water, dry them and preserve them with a special agent.
  4. The final stage is putting the instruments into packages and placing them in an autoclave, which is the most important element of the entire decontamination sequence. It is a device for sterilizing reusable instruments. It can also sterilize reusable masks and used disposable surgical masks before disposal. In the past, autoclaves used to be large and bulky, but thanks to the technological progress, today they can be found almost anywhere – small, neat, easy to use and accessible to everyone.