What is sterility really

I was doing the dishes tonight, specifically I was scrubbing a steak knife, when I made an important scientific discovery. Apparently, I am made, mostly, of meat.

Fascinating discovery aside, as I was putting on a band-aid, I realized that I’ve had these bandaids so long that I can’t remember when I bought them, yet I still consider them “sterile”. Or at least sterile enough to go on an open wound. Yet they just sit on the shelf in a thin paper wrapper. Surely bacteria could penetrate this. Is this really sterile? Or maybe it’s sterile enough in layman’s terms? What really constitutes sterility? And just how serious should we take that in normal everyday life?

What about a fresh box of aluminum foil or wax paper? No surgeon would consider it sterile, but how would it compare to my box of years old bandaids? Boiling is an old fashioned form of sterilization, but what about a fork straight from the dish washer? What if it was hand washed? Was my steak knife sterile?

Weird topic, weird questions, but I think it’s something not well understood by many, especially when the default answer is always you can’t be too sterile so just have it autoclaved. That’s even a good answer if you’re deliberately implanting, but not much use when you’ve just steak knifed yourself.

Also, ouch.

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Band-aids ain’t sterile. They just keep the wound reasonably clean. Also - at least for me - their main job is to prevent small cuts from spreading blood all over the place.

On a side note, be glad that you didn’t cut your nuts off with the steak knife, else you’d know what sterility is :slight_smile:

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Band-Aid is a brand owned by Johnson & Johnson.

Is this really sterile?

Depends what product you have and if it was advertised as sterile then check the EXP date.

What really constitutes sterility?

Definition
free from living germs or microorganisms

And just how serious should we take that in normal everyday life?

Depends as to what you are referring to and your health as we do have leukocytes in our body to help us in day to day life.

What about a fresh box of aluminum foil or wax paper? No surgeon would consider it sterile, but how would it compare to my box of years old bandaids?

Depends what country you are from.
I know that in the USA surgeons have to follow strict CDC and FDA guidelines to avoid liability.
Refer to this as a starter. Sterilizing Practices and Disinfection and Sterilization

Boiling is an old fashioned form of sterilization, but what about a fork straight from the dish washer?

The National Sanitation Foundation has a standard named NSF/NSIS 184 , which means that if a dishwasher has that certification, it will kill 99.99 percent of bacteria when you use the “sanitize” setting.

The FDA requires that commercial washers top 165°F in order to sanitize.
LINK

Was my steak knife sterile?

Probably not due as you where not done cleaning it.

I was doing the dishes tonight, specifically I was scrubbing a steak knife

What if it was hand washed? Was my steak knife sterile?

Depends what you are using to clean it and what you used to dry it off as to not cross contaminate.

Definition of sterile in your context
-free from living organisms and especially pathogenic microorganisms -

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If he was just washing his dishes, it was most definitely not even close to sterile - the sponge is a host to tons of bacteria, as is the water and the towel. You may use paper towels if you want it “more free of germs”, but it still won’t be anywhere near sterile.

That set aside - it doesn’t matter at all :wink:
The germs around us are usually no problem. Our bodies are used to fighting stuff that tries to invade us, and they usually do their job really well. Especially on bleeding wounds, things are even easier, for the blood “washes out” stuff. Deep, little bleeding wounds are a lot more dangerous than big, bleeding cuts.
The only reason I am so picky about sterility with professionals - it’s their job to create as little risk as possible, and especially with implants, things inside a closed wound might do a lot of trouble. If I see my pro doing as much as he can to create a real sterile field, sterile tools and all, I know that he takes his job serious, knows what he is doing, and I can trust him.

If I do anything on myself, I am a lot more sloppy :smile:

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That’s kind of the crux of the question. I don’t think a truly sterile enviroment exists, setting aside absurdities like fresh lava. The closest I know of is the JPL clean room, and that place even has a special strain of bugs that can tolerate the frequent decontaminations to take advantage of the lack of competition.

So sterility is a spectrum, right. How steril is steril for what purposes? How is that judged, bugs per cc? What is steril enough, and for what situation?

Amal soaks implants in chlorohexidine, and that’s the min o.k. for implants, but if I had to dig a splinter out of my hand, then hydrogen peroxide is fine to clean a needle with.

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And that’s, by definition, sanitized and not sterilized (at least from what I know). Sterilizing can be achieved by autoclaving, gamma-rays, EO-gas (and surely some other means I just don’t know about^^).
If you want to get a splinter out, it is just not neccessary to sterilize things, unless you have a serious problem with your immune system. It might as well not be (medically) neccessary for most bodymods (for example, with my scarification, it would be very unlikely to get an infection there), but since the pro’s in that field have to eliminate as many risks as possible, it is done. My artist was okay with implanting a “not 100% sterile” implant in my hand, because he knows that the risks are very low, but he told me about them, so I could decide if I want it or not.

On wikipedia, I found the following:

So I’d say - very, very little surviving germs :wink:

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Indeed a very good topic to bring up!

Unless he is a lazy as as I am, and also uses Anti-septic soap to do the dishes because it’s cheaper when you need to bulk buy it anyway. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Exactly.
To begin, I would repeat @Coma:

Sterilization becomes more necessary when something will be forcing it’s way against the flow of blood.
When you made your discovery about the meatyness of us, I bet you had to fight off the blood spilling out of yourself first, right?
That flow of blood also helps you get rid of the external bodies. so when you toss in your bandaid, even if it is not sterile, it will first receive blood, which will keep it’s own microorganisms in itself.

So unless your bandaid was infected, either to the point of saturation or with an organism which would thrive in our blood and wound, then there is no need to worry.

Now, if we are talking about a piercing, for example… We are forcing something to remain in direct contact with the wound. this means that as some point the microorganisms there will have an opportunity to swim inwards and start to multiply.
But even then, if it’s a piercing and you do something like warm salted water compresses, you might just as well suck the infection away. (unless we are talking about a particularly nasty agent).

Talking about my own experience… as long as I know where the piercing had been, I am usually happy with sanitizing it for 48-72 hours in enzymatic soap on a tray on top of a speaker booming bass sounds.

I would not use anything less than autoclave for a customer, though (I used to do both things), mostly because I can never be sure of the state of it’s immune system, and on a studio the tools might get contaminated with a nasty agent from someone else’s blood.

So… what changes with an implant?
Unlike the piercing, which will still allow for external agents to be naturally expelled, an implant will keep microorganisms inside us, without means of getting them out at all.
So the range of microorganisms which could be a risk to us increases manifold! something which would be washed away long before it could evolve, now will have all the time it needs. and if you have an infection, it’s going to be really hard for your body to deal with it!

Hope this helps a bit with the Idea of the need/impact of sterilization being a spectre, not a switch! >.o

Also, to get thinking… how much sterilization is too much?
If we never get in touch with any bacteria, any tiny thing might cause a lot of harm!
Similar effect of overusing antibiotics. :wink:

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