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The major differences in clean and sterile, in health care, involve the techniques employed when performing certain procedures. Types of hand hygiene and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), antiseptics on skin, and dedicated areas and equipment differ. In medicine, clean, aseptic and sterile techniques are employed for different procedures. When considering food health, following clean technique along with aseptic cleaning of certain items can prevent food-borne illnesses.

Transmission of Germs

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Germs include thousands of varieties of virus, parasites, mold and bacteria. These organisms live everywhere -- on skin, inside our bodies, in the earth, in water, in the air and on surfaces. Since the late 1800s, we've known that hand washing can prevent some previously fatal illnesses. More recently, we've learned how coughing or sneezing into our sleeve or a tissue rather than our hands or the air can decrease the likelihood of infecting others with our germs. We also know that regular cleaning with soap and water will kill many germs and the use of disinfectants will kill even more. During flu season, standard medical practice suggests keeping six feet away from infected individuals to prevent the spread of flu germs. Other contagious illnesses require isolation and the use of PPE, such as masks, gowns and gloves, when contact is necessary.

Clean Technique

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Clean technique refers to the use of routine hand washing, hand drying and wearing of non-sterile gloves. Using clean technique minimizes the transmission of microscopic organisms such as bacteria and viruses. It effectively prevents most cross contamination that can occur when performing noninvasive medical procedures or when preparing food. Clean technique is used medically when taking blood pressures, examining patients and feeding patients, for example. Frequent, thorough cleaning of surfaces is one way to cut down on food-borne illness in homes and restaurants. Disinfecting cutting, serving and preparation implements using soap and hot water also helps prevent cross contamination.

Aseptic Techniques

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Aseptic refers to the absence of contamination with germs. While not necessarily sterile, aseptic technique goes beyond simple cleaning and clean technique. Hygiene on patient's skin is performed using alcohol or other antimicrobial cleanser when following aseptic technique. After cleaning the hands with antimicrobial cleansers, medical staff then put on sterile gloves. During any minimally invasive procedures such as placing a urinary catheter, suctioning, placing an IV and performing a dressing change, a dedicated clean area is employed. This clean area is made using a sterile drape or other aseptic material to cover common surfaces that will hold supplies while performing the procedure.

Sterile Technique

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Sterile technique is followed for performing surgery or the preparation of sterile materials for multiple patients. Prepping for surgery involves surgical hand scrubbing, accomplished using a long-acting antiseptic and performed a certain way - from elbows down to fingertips, drying hands with sterile towels, wearing gown, gloves, shoe and head covers and a mask. Patient's skin is prepared for surgery by disinfecting with a long-acting antiseptic such as povidine-iodine or chlorhexidine and other areas are covered with sterile drapes. Sterile instruments and supplies are employed and placed upon a sterile field. Surgical rooms are used only for performing sterile procedures. Everything that comes into contact with an operative patient is sterile. This prevents the introduction of foreign organisms into the patient during surgery. Such an invasion would almost certainly cause infection in a compromised and stressed individual who is already ill or recuperating.