Prevention a sterile concept for health workers

Toronto hospitals use thousands of instruments for various procedures every day. Most patients assume the instruments meet sterilizations standards.

Statistics Canada says that precautionary procedures minimize the risk of transmitting infectious diseases through blood transfusions.

Joanne Matthews is administrative director for surgical services at Women’s College Health Sciences Centre. She confirms that in 2003, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre exposed 861 men to infections, including HIV and Hepatitis B and C. The infections occurred during prostate biopsies done with equipment that had not been properly sterilized.

“Sterilizing wasn’t the issue on that one,” she said. “One piece of equipment had not been cleaned properly. It was a pretty complex thing. It had channels that needed to be taken apart and cleaned, but no one realized that.”

Matthews believes that both Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre have very strong infection prevention controls.

“When there’s new equipment coming in, it has to be signed off and they read the cleaning instructions from the company,” she said.

According to Matthews, hospitals also have procedures to track down patients they believe may have been exposed to certain infections.

“We do record sterilization loads, so we can track what patients become infected if the instrument has been used on them,” she said.

Since the 2003 scare at Sunnybrook and Women’s College, the Ministry of Health has launched a province-wide audit of infection-control procedures. But Eileen Devilla, associate medical officer of health for the Region of Peel, says there are ways for patients to protect themselves from certain infections even before setting foot in the hospitals.

“If there’s a vaccine available for a certain type of infection like Hepatitis B, one of the best things to do to protect yourself is to get immunized,” she said. “It’s safe and effective for health-care providers and the general public.”

Devilla says she takes sterilization of hospital instruments very seriously. When high-risk procedures are about to take place, she says patients should be tested for possible infections.

“When it comes to hospital prevention of infection, they have infection prevention and control teams. There are a lot of things that hospitals do to prevent infections,” Devilla said.

Devilla also said when it comes to proper sterilization practices, one of the most important things is to have qualified and dedicated staff specifically hired to engage in those activities.

“Human resources and proper policies and procedures are a must. What those would be, would depend on what clinical are that would be,” she said.