Other Sterilization Methods

Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities (2008)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Microwaves are used in medicine for disinfection of soft contact lenses, dental instruments, dentures, milk, and urinary catheters for intermittent self-catheterization925-931. However, microwaves must only be used with products that are compatible (e.g., do not melt) 931. Microwaves are radio-frequency waves, which are usually used at a frequency of 2450 MHz. The microwaves produce friction of water molecules in an alternating electrical field. The intermolecular friction derived from the vibrations generates heat and some authors believe that the effect of microwaves depends on the heat produced while others postulate a nonthermal lethal effect932-934. The initial reports showed microwaves to be an effective microbicide. The microwaves produced by a “home-type” microwave oven (2.45 GHz) completely inactivate bacterial cultures, mycobacteria, viruses, and G. stearothermophilus spores within 60 seconds to 5 minutes depending on the challenge organism933, 935-937. Another study confirmed these resuIts but also found that higher power microwaves in the presence of water may be needed for sterilization932. Complete destruction of Mycobacterium bovis was obtained with 4 minutes of microwave exposure (600W, 2450 MHz)937. The effectiveness of microwave ovens for different sterilization and disinfection purposes should be tested and demonstrated as test conditions affect the results (e.g., presence of water, microwave power). Sterilization of metal instruments can be accomplished but requires certain precautions.926. Of concern is that home-type microwave ovens may not have even distribution of microwave energy over the entire dry device (there may be hot and cold spots on solid medical devices); hence there may be areas that are not sterilized or disinfected. The use of microwave ovens to disinfect intermittent-use catheters also has been suggested. Researchers found that test bacteria (e.g., E. coliKlebsiella pneumoniaeCandida albicans) were eliminated from red rubber catheters within 5 minutes 931. Microwaves used for sterilization of medical devices have not been FDA cleared.

Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion (DHQP) 


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