10 Medical Terms to Remember in Microbiology

One of the most valuable fields of study in the medical industry is microbiology.

Microbiology is the scientific study of living microorganisms too tiny to be observed by the naked eye. If you plan to become a sterile processing technician, microbiology is a subject you must take in your online learning to understand how microbes interact with people and the environment.

Not all branches and purposes of microbiology are used in healthcare. Microbiology is a broad field of study encompassing industrial and environmental applications. Though all of its areas can contribute to medicine, only medical microbiology can identify and manage infectious diseases.

When taking the best online sterile processing course, you will be taught the details of medical microbiology. Medical microbiology is a subset that focuses on preventing, diagnosing, and treating infectious diseases and clinical applications of microbes for health improvement.

Knowing about medical microbiology before enrolling in an online course for sterile processing technicians can help make your studies easier. We listed several terminologies under three categories in our infographic below:

Microbiological Practices

Under a medical microbiology course, you will be taught practices to prevent the spread of infection. Microbiological practices are used to create a sterile and safe environment for handling contaminated items, some of which include the following:

(1) Aseptic Technique

Aseptic techniques, also called medical asepsis, are a series of practices and procedures under controlled conditions to prevent contamination from microorganisms purposefully. Aseptic techniques are used in surgery rooms, outpatient care centers, and clinics. Medical asepsis consists of four main aspects: using sterile barriers, preparing sterile equipment for patients, environmental control, and following contact guidelines.

(2) Biosafety Levels (BSL)

Biosafety refers to safe practices for adequately handling and containing biological materials and infectious organisms.

All healthcare institutions must have their biosafety manuals to minimize exposure hazards. There are four biosafety levels (BSL) describing the associated risk intensity:

  • BSL 1 – low individual and community risk (e.g., coli)

  • BSL 2 – moderate individual risk; limited community, environment, and livestock risk (e.g., Salmonella)

  • BSL 3 – high individual risk; low community risk (Rabies virus)

  • BSL 4 – high individual and community risk (Smallpox virus)

(3) Biosafety Cabinet (BSC)

A biosafety cabinet is a type of biocontainment used for working with instruments and materials contaminated by microbes requiring specific biosafety levels. It is a well-ventilated, enclosed workspace to protect personnel and the environment from infection. In the United States, there are three primary classes of BSC:

  • Class I – infrequently used; provide personnel and environmental protection but not product protection

  • Class II – provides better protection than Class I; offers personnel, environmental, and product protection

  • Class III – fully enclosed cabinet; provides maximum personnel, environmental, and product protection

Microbiological Organisms

The medical field has classified modern microbiology into several categories for quicker and more accurate diagnosis and treatment. Some of the most common types of microorganisms you may encounter as an SPT includes:

(1) Bacteria

Bacteria are tiny, free-living organisms that are the causative agents of many diseases. While they may cause illness, bacteria are also used to develop valuable antibiotics for treating patients. Some examples of common bacteria in hospitals include Staphylococcus aureus and Acinetobacter.

(2) Viruses

Viruses are infectious microbes only capable of replicating within the living cells of an organism. Like bacteria, viruses cause diseases, some of which are highly contagious, and are also used for developing vaccines. Examples of viruses include Influenza, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and Herpes.

(3) Parasites

Parasites are organisms living in or on a host organism, usually taking food at the expense of their host. Parasites can simultaneously injure, derive crucial substances, and deliver diseases to humans. Three classifications of parasites can make people ill: protozoa, ectoparasites, and helminths (worms).

(4) Fungi

Fungi fall under the mycology category in microbiology, consisting of mushrooms, molds, and yeasts. Fungi deliver harm and benefits to humans – they can cause allergies, infection, poisoning, and digestive issues, yet they are also used to develop medicine to counter bacteria.

As a sterile processing technician, you ensure these microorganisms are eliminated from medical tools and equipment before they are used on patients. Each microbe classification causes varying risk levels in people and the surroundings; thus, following the proper sterilization process is paramount to prevent infection from spreading.

Disinfection and Sterilization

Sterile processing technicians use a wide array of equipment and apparatuses to eliminate infectious microorganisms from hundreds of medical instruments daily. Microbiologists also use these tools to research and contain microbes in the laboratory.

(1) Autoclave

An autoclave is a machine used to kill infectious bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores, and other infectious microbes. Autoclaves use a combination of heat, moisture, and pressure to eliminate all microorganisms from medical tools. This type of equipment is considered the most effective machine for decontamination and sterilization.

(2) Disinfectants

Disinfectants are substances or processes used to eliminate harmful microorganisms from various surfaces. Many disinfectants come in the form of harsh chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide and bleach, but often high heat and radiation are used. Disinfectants must be left on medical tools and equipment surfaces to ensure all bacteria, viruses, and fungi are killed.

(3) Ultrasonic Bath

While you may believe that only chemicals, heat, and pressure are used to eliminate pathogens, you might be surprised to find that sound is also effective in disinfection.

An ultrasonic bath uses high-frequency sound waves and liquid to clean the surfaces of many hospital instruments, creating billions of bubbles. These bubbles can penetrate every surface of medical tools, effectively clearing tiny holes and recesses of dirt, bacteria, and other infectious matter.

Understanding Microbiology in Sterile Processing

Whenever there is contamination, there is the presence of pathogenic microorganisms. Sterile processing technicians are expected to know this fact since they ensure these microbes do not further spread across patients.

When medical instruments and equipment are sent to the sterile processing department, they must all be handled as infectious. Thus, it is paramount to decontaminate and sterilize these items before they are recirculated.

Since microorganisms are not perceptible by the naked eye, having a thorough understanding of microbiology can aid you in understanding how to protect the patients and yourself.

You can gain more knowledge on medical microbiology by enrolling in a sterile processing technician program at Martinson College. They offer accelerated adult and online courses designed for SPTs. Visit their website for details.