Medical Sheepskins and Bed Linen
Medical sheepskins are used in the same way as bed linen, lie in direct contact with the skin.
Consequently the micro-organisms found on them are the same as those on bed linen, essentially the normal skin flora. Where fecal soiling occurs, intestinal flora will also be present.
These organisms do not present a cross-infection problem unless the user or handler has open skin lesions in direct contact with the sheepskin.
If a patient has a diagnosed contagious disease, the medical sheepskin may become contaminated with pathogenic organisms, in which case it should be segregated in the same way as infectious linen but must be washed separately in compliance with the Standard.
Objects coming into contact with sterile internal organs and tissues must be sterilized. All other articles must undergo some form of decontamination to make them safe for reuse.
This ranges from high level disinfections, washed for six minutes at 80'C, or a low level disinfections in a warm wash at 60'C using a suitable bacteriostat detergent.
Washing at 70'C or above will rapidly destroy most micro-organisms except bacterial spores and a few viruses.
Medical sheepskins cannot be sterilized but can be adequately sanitized using an appropriate laundering process, leaving them clean and presentable for use as well as microbiologically safe.
Providing gross soil has been removed in a preliminary rinsing stage, moist heat is the most reliable method for disinfection.
It is rapid, convenient, economical and efficient compared with chemical agents.
Even at temperatures below the minimum pasteurizing temperature, the cleaning action of the surfactant alone will remove most of the microbiological contaminants.
Standard laundry cycles will provide low level disinfection, adequate for processing soiled linen. The sanitizing effect can be further enhanced by the addition of a chemical agent such as a Quaternary Ammonium Compound (QAT). High level disinfection is desirable for all articles used in high risk areas such as operating theatres. Six minutes exposure to water at 80'C will provide this level of safety, the prescribed holding time of eight minutes is more than sufficient to ensure that the entire load is subjected to the required conditions.
Thermal disinfection is now recommended wherever possible. This standard is now achievable for green Hitemp (80'C high level wash cycle) sheepskins, covered by the Australian Standard and is acceptable for prevention of cross-infection.
Reliable methods of disinfection will become more important in the future as more multi-resistant organisms emerge in the hospital environment, as well as higher degree of patient susceptibility.