The word “germ” comes from the Latin word for seed. As previously discussed in earlier Bug of the Month articles, most “germs” are actually helpful, with only a relative handful capable of producing disease. Disease causing germs (pathogens) include some spores, prions, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Agents that can kill or slow down the growth of some of these harmful germs include sunlight, (UVrays), cold, heat, (steam under pressure and dry heat), and chemical agents.
When speaking about chemical agents, there are four categories of germicides that cover a wide range of product chemistry and areas of use. They are sterilants, disinfectants, sanitizers and antiseptics.
Sterilants, disinfectants and sanitizers are chemicals used to kill most harmful germs on surfaces. Antiseptics are agents used to kill germs on the skin. Chemical germicides are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and are classified as “pesticides”. “Pesticide” is defined by law in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) as any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest , and any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desicant. The term “pesticide” covers a wide spectrum of substances that are used to make our lives safer or more pleasurable. While most people think of pests as insects, the term can also refer to anything from viruses, bacteria, fungi, weeds, mice, bees and rats. More than 5000 antimicrobial products are currently registered with the EPA and sold in the marketplace. Nearly 60% of antimicrobial products are registered to control infectious microorganisms in hospitals and other health care environments.
Beginning in 1994, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assumed regulatory responsibility for certain liquid and gaseous, (ethylene oxide), chemical agents used to sterilize reusable medical devices used in or on patients.