Asepsis is a state of freedom from pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It is not the same thing as sterility, where no such organisms are present, not even organisms not believed to be infectious. In medical settings, care providers use a number of procedures to create and maintain asepsis for patient safety. Many nations have laws with specific mandates about maintaining aseptic clinical exam rooms, operating rooms, and so forth, and individual facilities have additional policies developed and enforced by safety officers and consultants concerned with hospital-acquired infections.
The idea of creating aseptic working conditions for medical care developed in the 1800s, when clinicians realized simple steps like washing their hands before procedures could cut down substantially on the spread of infection. Researchers examined the origins and spread of disease and used this information to develop guidelines for asepsis. Standardizing these guidelines to create safe working conditions reduced the risks of hospital-acquired infections, as well as post-procedure complications.
Some examples of techniques used for asepsis include washing hands, wiping down surfaces in clinical exam rooms, requiring patients to wear hospital gowns, and applying soaps and antibacterial products to the skin of patients before procedures like surgeries. Medical supply companies produce a number of products for aseptic procedure, including cleaning supplies, patient washes, and shields to limit fluid splashback during procedures. Care providers use multiple tactics to combat pathogenic organisms to create layers of security.
When people are in training to become medical providers, their instructors provide them with information about asepsis and sterilization. During clinical rotations where people have an opportunity to care for patients, they also learn about aspetic procedures and have an opportunity to practice while under the guidance of experienced care providers. During training, people may also learn about checklists and other tools used to enforce compliance with aseptic procedures in facilities like hospitals and clinics.
It is important to understand the differences between asepsis and sterilization. In an aseptic environment, no organisms known to cause infection are present. Patient procedures can be safely performed and organisms will not be spread from patient to patient. In sterile environments, no organisms are present. In some settings, sterility is required. For example, when a lab is doing a culture of a specimen sample, sterile conditions are needed to prevent contamination of the sample. If contamination occurs, the culture results may be incorrect. Contamination with benign organisms can also be a problem in medical research and development.