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To help control the spread of infectious diseases in medical offices, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published infection control guidelines, in which they recommend that the sterilization process be monitored weekly using a biological indicator. Most states now require the use of biological indicators to monitor the sterilization process, and specify the frequency with which the monitoring must occur.

Biological indicators, which contain living nonpathogenic bacterial spores, are the only means of monitoring sterility. Chemical indicators, such as autoclave tape and color change strips, simply show that an item has been through a sterilizer cycle; they do not verify that the equipment has operated effectively, or that the item is sterile. These non-biological indicators are frequently used for monitoring each sterilizer cycle in addition to the required periodic biological indicator testing.

Quality control testing of sterilization equipment is necessary because studies show that as many as 20% of sterilization cycles fail1. Testing the sterilization process with a biological indicator can reveal procedural problems such as overloading, improper loading, incorrect packaging, and operator error. It will also detect mechanical problems with the sterilizer.

The AUTOCHECK Laboratory at Emory University Hospital operates as a specialized testing laboratory within Emory Medical Laboratories, a comprehensive, state-of-the-art clinical, laboratory which remains on the forefront of laboratory science and provides for the clinical laboratory testing needs of Emory Healthcare. As the healthcare arm of Emory University, located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory Healthcare is a premier academic medical center providing high quality training, research and clinical services.

1Hastreiter RJ, Millnare JA,  Falkner MC, Roesch MH, Gleason MJ, Merchanat VA. Effectivenss of Dental Office  Instrument Sterilization Procedures. JADA, Vol. 122, 1991.