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Working Safely with Reusable Vaginal Specula

The following is a step-by-step guide to disinfecting vaginal specula safely and expeditiously.

Step 1: Contain & Transport
Immediately after use, place contaminated specula inside a covered container (labeled with the biohazard symbol) and tightly cover with a lid. Use a container without grooves or seams that is easy to clean and carry. Then, transport the contaminated specula to a designated cleaning area. Soaking the specula prior to washing will loosen cellular debris and facilitate cleaning, but do not use glutaraldehyde for this purpose.

Step 2: Clean
The most critical step in the decontamination and sterilization process is cleaning specula to remove debris that interferes with the sterilization or disinfection process. Clean as soon as practically possible after use so that organic material will not dry on the specula. Until the cleaning process is initiated, minimize the handling of contaminated specula by personnel who are not wearing adequate, or any, protective attire.

Clean by scrubbing the specula with a detergent solution or use a mechanical device such as an ultrasonic cleaner. When manually washing the specula, be sure to scrub them beneath the water with a soft-bristled brush; then rinse well under running water. Do not use sponges or wood-handled brushes for this process as these common cleaning tools are easily contaminated and harbor microorganisms.

Step 3: Disinfect or Sterilize
Vaginal specula contact patients' mucous membranes or non-intact skin, placing them in the "semicritical" category of items that require special handling and sterilization or high-level disinfection prior to reuse.

Autoclave - This is the best choice for sterilizing specula, but if an autoclave is not available, use high-level disinfection. Remember to use chemical indicators with each autoclave load and biological indicators once per week.

High-Level Disinfection - Remove the lid from the soaking bin and carefully place pre-cleaned instruments in the disinfectant. The soaking bin should be labeled with the name of the disinfectant and a hazard warning. Strictly adhere to the immersion time specified by the product manufacturer.

Step 4: Rinse & Inspect
Upon removing the instruments from the soaking solution, thoroughly rinse them with water, and then visually inspect instruments prior to stocking for reuse or storage. Be especially vigilant about areas with serrations and crevices. Store in a clean, dry area.

Source: Guideline for Handwashing and Hospital Environmental Control, 1985. Julia S. Garner; Matin S. Favero, Hospital Infections Program Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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