2: Infection Control & the Electrologist|
by Pauline W. Fallis, R.N., B. Admin. (HS), C.I.C.
Why are glass bead sterilizers not recommended for use in electrology?
In 1987 the Food and Drug Administration approved for sale endodontic dry
heat sterilizers (glass beaded units). They were approved as a method of
disinfecting endodontic dental instruments. The important word here is
disinfecting not sterilizing.
Needle electrodes, thumb forceps (sharp pointed tweezers) and other
instruments frequently penetrate the skin thus becoming contaminated with
blood, serum and other material found in hair follicles or on the skin in
the practice of electrology. In performing procedures, like probing for and
removing ingrown hairs, you must go below the skin which can result in
considerable blood contamination on the instruments you are using and on
the surfaces these instruments touch. You now have a situation where
microorganisms may be transferred from one client to another or even the
client to the electrologist if good infection control practices are not
We now see that there is a potential for cross infection even though there
has not been any studies done to prove this. All reusable instruments used
to perform procedures by the electrologist must be sterilized between
There have been several problems identified when the glass beaded unit was
being considered as a sterilizing device:
Depending on the size of the instrument, the instrument may act as a heat
sink which means that the instrument may reduce the temperature of the
glass beads when it is placed in the unit, thus sterilization may not take
Most glass beaded units are quite small and some instruments may be too big
to be completely covered by the beads as is required.
Different areas of the unit may be of different temperatures. Unless you
have a thermometer that indicates temperatures in other areas of the unit
besides the base, only the temperature at the base is known.
Many of the units have only an indicator light to indicate that the
temperature has been reached. Do you know what the temperature really is?
Is it hot enough?
What is the temperature to time ratio? If you do not know what the
temperature is how do you know how long to leave it in the unit?
Sterilization, whatever the method, when heat is involved depends on a
temperature to time relationship. The higher the temperature the shorter
And finally, there is no method to test the process to make sure that the
unit has really killed the microorganisms.
The Food and Drug Administration Dental Device Classification Panel stated
in the US Federal Registry Volume 45, Number 261 that the endodontic hot
beaded unit is not an acceptable method of sterilization and a potential
unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the patient because the device
may fail to sterilize dental devices adequately. This same potential risk
may be applied to the electrology client. The FDA made a final ruling
published in the US Federal Register, 21 CFR Part 872 on August 12,1987
stating in part that studies indicate that the device (glass bead
sterilizer) may not sterilize instruments satisfactorily, even when the
device reaches and maintains the temperature it is intended to reach. And
even the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia has stated that
the glass bead unit should not be classified as a sterilizer.
Remember, just like the inductive heating of a needle electrode does not
sterilize it, the heating of instruments in a glass beaded unit does not
On the other hand the unit may be used successfully to decontaminate
instruments to be used on the same client. That means when treating a
client, instruments that have been inadvertently dropped, or needle
electrodes that have touched the electrologist's glove or other
contaminated surfaces may be cleaned then processed in the glass beaded
unit and used again on that client.
It is a misnomer that the glass beaded unit is a sterilizer.
Send your infection control questions for Pauline Fallis to answer to:
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INFECTION CONTROL ARTICLES
- PREPARING FOR THE PATIENT/CLIENT
Spring 2001, Volume 8, Number 1
- PREVENTING INFECTION FOR ELECTROLYSIS
Fall 2000, Volume 7, Number 2
Spring 2000, Volume 7, Number 1
- MICROORGANISMS AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Summer 1999, Volume 6, Number 2
- BLOOD BORNE INFECTIOUS DISEASES AND PERSONAL PROTECTION
Spring 1999, Volume 6, Number 1
- MICROORGANISMS & INFECTION
Fall 1998, Volume 5, Number 2.
- BIOLOGICAL TESTING OF YOUR STERILIZATION PROCESS
Spring 1998, Volume 5, Number 1
- STEAM STERILIZATION
Fall 1997, Volume 4, Number 2
- CHEMICAL STERILIZATION
Spring 1997, Volume 4, Number1
- DRY HEAT STERILIZATION
Fall 1996, Volume 3, Number 2
Spring 1996, Volume 3, Number 1
- IS YOUR USE OF NEEDLES SAFE IN YOUR PRACTICE?
Fall 1995, Volume 2, Number 2
- PREPARING INSTRUMENTS FOR STERILIZATION
Spring 1995, Volume 2, Number 1
- WHY ARE GLASS BEAD STERILIZERS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR USE IN ELECTROLOGY?
Fall 1994, Volume 1, Number 2
- STERILIZATION: HOW, WHEN, AND WHAT WITH
Spring 1994, Volume 1, Number1