Three diseases that can be spread through cross-contamination
Reusable medical devices are commonly used in hospitals and clinics across the country. Such devices are typically made of metal and cleaned after each use, via sterilization techniques that conform with government guidelines and regulations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explained. Several alarming studies in recent times, however, have indicated that the sterilization methods used on reusable devices fail to kill all bacteria and viruses on an instrument and can even leave behind traces of human DNA in the form of blood and saliva. Consequently, patients are routinely put at risk of cross-contamination and are exposed to a number of dangerous infections including HIV, HPV and MRSA.
Studies on cross-contamination
As detailed, there has been important research in recent times outlining the risk of cross-contamination from reusable devices. For example, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists produced a literature review outlining the risk of cross-contamination from reusable laryngoscope blades. The review noted several important studies, which found that traces of blood and saliva are often still found on laryngoscope blades, even after sterilization mandates have been closely adhered to. This indicates that complete sterilization of reusable tools in a hospital and clinical setting is practically impossible. The review noted that, given the fact that viruses such as hepatitis and HIV are spread via blood, it is safe to assume that medical patients face the risk of contracting the conditions from medical tools – even if that risk is relatively small.
"Certain strains of HPV are resistant to disinfection efforts."
Another study from researchers at Brigham Young University, published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, found that certain strains of the human papillomavirus are resistant to disinfection efforts in medical settings – particularly strain HPV16.
Given the findings of these studies and others, it is clear that patients are at a tangible risk of disease thanks to reusable instruments. But if the risk is relatively small, why should health care providers and patients be concerned? The answer is because several conditions – HIV, HPV and MRSA – are all dangerous and potentially deadly. Let's take a closer look at the three diseases:
1. What is HIV?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV, which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a condition that weakens the immune system – the body's first line of defense against disease. The condition affects the immune system by killing the cells that comprise it – CD4 cells. If HIV is left to progress, it can eventually develop into AIDS, a disease which involves the virtual shut down of the immune system. When this occurs patients are at a heightened risk of developing dangerous chronic conditions such as cancer or viral diseases.
There are treatments available that enable HIV-positive patients to live long and healthy lives with the condition. Unfortunately, though, there is currently no cure for the disease.
How is HIV contracted?
HIV is transmitted through certain kinds of bodily fluids – semen, blood, breast milk, and fluids found in the vagina and anus. The CDC stressed that, contrary to widespread misinformation, HIV cannot be passed on through saliva, sweat or other forms of water.
The most common modes of transmission for HIV include needle sharing and unprotected sexual intercourse. The most risky kinds of sexual activity for HIV transmission are penetrative anal sex followed by penetrative vaginal sex. The CDC explained that the virus can also be spread from pregnant mother to child and also, perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this article, via used medical tools such as needles and reusable tools. The source detailed that the HIV virus can actually survive on the surface of needles for over a month, putting patients and health care workers at a small but notable risk.
2. What is HPV?
HPV is an acronym for the Human Papillomavirus, the CDC explained. One of the most common viruses known to man, with a majority of people across the world becoming infected with one or more strains throughout their lifetime. There are almost 200 strains of HPV, the impacts of which can range considerably from mild to life-threatening. The source explained that a majority of cases of HPV are so mild that they produce no discernable symptoms in those infected. Other strains can lead to benign conditions such as warts. HPV is a major problem because in some cases certain strains, such as HPV16, can potentially lead to cancers in the genitial area – particularly cervical cancer in women, which of course is life-threatening.
How is HPV contracted?
HPV is contracted via skin-to-skin contact. Consequently, HPV is primarily spread through sexual activity of any kind. Given that in many cases HPV is asymptomatic, those who become infected are often unaware they have the virus. As outlined earlier, HPV can also potentially be spread via reusable medical tools, particularly instruments such as vaginal speculums.
In many cases HPV will clear up on its own. The CDC explained that there are vaccines available to prevent the spread of the virus and protect women against cervical cancer.
3. What is MRSA?
Highly resistant to various forms of treatment, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, is a medical condition that occurs in patients in hospitals, many of whom who have undergone surgery or other procedures, Mayo Clinic reported. MRSA is a rare yet aggressive form of staph bacteria which can cause complications when it enters the body through broken skin – such as surgical wounds. The source noted that those who have had surgery and patients with severely compromised immune systems are at particular risk. MRSA can lead to life-threatening blood infections and other complications, which is why efforts to keep hospital and clinics as clean and sterile as possible are imperative.
How is MRSA contracted?
MRSA is typically contracted in hospitals or care homes and can be passed on via skin-to-skin contact, through touching materials that have come into contact with the bacteria and even medical instruments – again pointing to the failure of reusable tools to provide effective care.
OBP Medical can help
The solution in the fight against cross-contamination is single-use devices, such as the range on offer from OBP Medical. To learn more and request free samples, click here.