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How clean are the instruments used in surgery?

When you enter the hospital there is a specific aroma. That chemical-clean smell is always there to greet you (along with the smells the other patients may have brought with them).

You hope that with the too-white linens and the individually wrapped gadgets that you do not have to worry about whether your doctor’s surgical instruments are sterile. After all, undergoing surgery can leave your immune system weak, increasing your chance for infection.

Here’s a glimpse of what can happen if the instruments used in your surgery are not sterile.

Keeping it sterile

Every hospital has a sterilization procedure in place for processing surgical tools and other hospital equipment. While there are some differences between hospitals, most procedures include processes such as:

  • Putting instruments in an autoclave that uses steam and pressure to sterilize
  • Using dry-heat sterilization techniques
  • Packaging sterilized instruments for future use

When hospital staff follows the sterilization procedure carefully, instruments pose little risk for introducing an infection.

The contaminated consequences

If you were healthy you probably would not need surgery in the first place, so the importance of keeping your surgical site clean is important. A weakened immune system combined with exposure to contaminated instruments can be disastrous. Recently, a hospital in Indiana had an incident where patients were at risk because staff did not follow the sterilization procedure.

Contaminated instruments can expose you to infections, such as:

  • Hepatitis
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • HIV
  • Surgical site infection

Some infections can be treated quickly with antibiotics and other treatments. Other infections, like MRSA, may extend your time in the hospital and significantly hinder your recovery.

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