The evolution of medical care through the ages is a fascinating one. For instance, over 2000 year ago, vinegar and thyme oil were used to treat wounds thanks to their antiseptic properties. It wasn’t until the 1800s that the link between poor hygiene and infectious diseases came to light – a discovery that led to a rapid revamp of health care with the use of antiseptics and proper sterilization procedures coming to the fore. However, they did not eliminate the risk of diseases.
As medical science evolves, so do diseases. The rise of antibiotic-resistant ‘super bugs’ like MRSA has left health care facilities scrambling to strengthen their infection control processes.
One of the ways in which the healthcare community is doing this is by moving away from reusable medical instruments to single-use, disposable ones. And while materials made of synthetic polymers form the largest portion of this market, the category of naturally-occurring bio-based products is growing significantly.
Bio-based materials suit the needs of health-care facilities
Bio-based materials are already being used for a number of applications such as wound care management, incontinence management, surgeries and even for gowns and medical instrument wrapping. This is due to many reasons like the excellent barrier abilities which prevent infection. The products are biocompatible and resistant to acids, alkalis and micro-organisms. They are also breathable, which makes them ideal to be used in bandages and surgical dressing.
“The patient might find bio-based materials comfortable to use. Plus, the moisture control is better, and this has a positive impact on wound healing, while helping bandages last longer. As a result, health care providers are interested in using these products a lot more,” says Ali Harlin, research professor at the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland.
Reusable products entail risks
Improperly cleaned reusable products can spread infections very easily, and in modern hospitals that see hundreds of patients every day, the likelihood of an epidemic breaking out is very high.
“A challenge with reusable alternatives is that since they are washed, reprocessed and used several times, it becomes difficult to ensure that the quality is consistently the same,” says Björn Carlzon, Global Franchise Director & Head of Marketing, Surgical solutions at Mölnlycke, a global provider of wound care and surgical solutions for healthcare professionals and patients.
Studies have shown that the methods of cleaning are not always thorough enough, and washer-disinfectors often fail to kill off all contaminants.
“The differences may not be visible to the naked eye, which increases the potential risk of contamination. With single-use alternatives, there is a fresh product every time, which makes quality control easier and contributes to reduced contamination risks,” Carlzon says.
While the use of single-use products is clearly helping bring down infection rates, concerns have been raised about the impact of disposal. However, pulp is a wood-based, recyclable and biodegradable raw material, and technologies have been created to help reprocess pulp-based items into new products thereby reducing the amount of waste.
It is not just hospitals and healthcare facilities that depend on single-use pulp-based products. They are very much a part of our day-to-day lives. For instance, good hand hygiene is a critical precaution in helping to fight infections at home and work. Rinsing hands with water is not enough – a thorough drying is needed to ensure that microbes are not spread around. Absorbent, single-use paper towels offer optimum hand and washroom hygiene. This is why tissue products made from pulp, such as hand towels, kitchen rolls and toilet paper, play a critical role in improving health and hygiene.
Text: Nikhil Sivadas