Promises and Pitfalls of Surface Disinfection



Hard, nonporous environmental surfaces in health care settings are now receiving due recognition for their role in the spread of several types of nosocomial pathogens. The corresponding increase in the means to decontaminate such surfaces to interrupt the spread of infections is leading to the marketing of a plethora of products and procedures, including the ‘‘green’’ variety, with varying claims of microbicidal activity, human and environmental safety, and materials compatibility.


Limitations of the existing methods to assess environmental surface disinfectants and the regulations that govern their premarket registration make objective evaluations difficult.


Label claims of many such products also do not reflect the realities of field use along with a strong tendency to focus on the ‘‘bug de jour.’’ Furthermore, whereas wiping is often an integral part of environmental surface decontamination, products meant for the purpose are rarely assessed with the physical effect of wiping incorporated.


Many ‘‘green’’ products possess neither the spectrum of microbicidal activity nor the speed of action essential for use in health care settings. In general, ‘‘self-sanitizing’’ surfaces being marketed actively these days require greater scrutiny for field-relevant microbicidal activity as well as the potential to enhance microbicide resistance.


The widening use of environmental surface disinfectants is also raising concerns on their human and environmental safety at many levels along with the realization that routine surface disinfection procedures in health care settings are frequently inadequate and possibly counterproductive.


All this points to an urgent review of the basic procedures for assessing existing and new environmental surface disinfectants for their microbicidal activity, label claims, registration requirements, overall safety, and routine practices of environmental surface decontamination.

“Promises and pitfalls of recent advances in chemical means of preventing the spread of nosocomial infections by environmental surfaces”

Author: Syed A. Sattar, PhD, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Copyright 2010 by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. (Am J Infect Control 2010; 38:S34-40.)