Disinfection is a measure designed to reduce by killing, through inactivation or removal/dilution, as many microorganisms as possible such as, bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, spores, in order to control the risk of infection for people and/or animals or contamination of objects or environments.

In the case of water, disinfection is a possible refining step for the use of useful water subjected to high quality standards (pharmaceutical-cosmetic and microelectronic industries) or for the recovery of contaminated water before its recycling within the production process.

The concept of disinfection when applied to surfaces and environments has a different meaning than sterilization; in fact, sterilization means the total elimination and/or inactivation of any living form, including viruses and spores and nematodes, while disinfection means the process restricted to pathogenic species.

Forms of disinfection.

Are used the following forms of disinfection:

Disinfection by natural means
o Physical
• Solar radiation (especially the ultraviolet fraction of sunlight which, however, being poorly penetrating, needs to directly affect the microbial flora in order to perform the disinfectant function).
• Drying (the heat of sunlight causes drying of germ protoplasm).
• Temperature (above 37°C reduces viability and above 45°C starts to kill germs).

o Biological
• Vital competition (implemented by microorganisms with direct action, as in the case of bacteriophage viruses, or indirect action through the modification of the substrate which is rendered unsuitable for development and proliferation).
• Dilution (if pathogenic germs are diluted, as in water or air, they are unlikely to reach bacterially sufficient numbers for infection to develop into disease).

Disinfection by artificial means
o Chemical-physical
• Radiation with UV lamps
• Pasteurization and U.H.T. treatment
• Dry heat (laboratory hot air heaters and muffles)
• Damp heat and steam (autoclave)
• Flame, incandescence and combustion
• Boiling
• Chemo-thermal washing (dishwashers, washing machines, etc…)
• Ionizing radiation (gamma rays)
• Aseptic filtration (laminar flow hood)

o Chemistry with disinfectant agents
• Alcohols such as propanol, isopropyl alcohol, ethanol
• Aldehydes such as formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, glyoxal
• Phenols and derivatives such as thymol, creosol
• Oxidants such as ozone, hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate
• Halogens such as chlorine, iodine, bromine, hypochlorous acid and derivatives (sodium hypochlorite, lithium hypochlorite, iodophores)
• Guanidine
• Cationic and anionic detergents (quaternary ammonium salts)

According to use, disinfectants for objects, for body and hands, for air, and for room surfaces are distinguished.


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