When a fungal meningitis outbreak swept across the United States in 2012, affecting over 800 people, the FDA traced its origin back to a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts.
An investigation revealed serious errors in compounded sterile preparations (CSPs)—the process by which pharmacists create drugs to meet the unique needs of a patient when commercially available drugs don’t fulfill them—at the facility.
It was specifically noted that failures in regards to their application of aseptic technique contributed to the contamination.
Aseptic technique refers to a specific set of practices performed in certain clinical settings to prevent the spread of pathogens and create a sterile environment.
Within pharmacies, it is usually required to carry out full aseptic techniques—as opposed to standard clean techniques practiced in all medical facilities—during CSPs.
Nonetheless, incidents such as the 2012 meningitis outbreak underline the importance of receiving proper training in aseptic technique for anyone considering a pharmaceutical career.
Read on to find out more about the principles of aseptic technique, and how pharmacy assistant students learn to apply it in their training.
The 4 Key Aspects of Aseptic Technique
There are four main elements of aseptic technique which students will learn during their time at pharmacy assistant college. The first is to maintain barriers to minimize contamination from employees or the environment.
These include sterile gloves, gowns and masks, which are specially packaged and cleaned to minimize exposure to bacteria. Students are also taught proper equipment preparation, and only use sterile instruments and machines that have not touched a contaminated surface.
A compounding pharmacy will also employ strict environmental controls, using a clean room to perform CSPs in which a sterile environment is maintained, and only the minimum trained personnel are allowed.
Lastly, there are strict contact guidelines in aseptic technique. Professionals must avoid contact with non-sterile surfaces while in sterile clothing, practice proper hand hygiene, and know how to correctly handle medications and equipment to minimize risk.
When to Use Clean Technique
While pharmaceutical professionals are usually only required to maintain an aseptic environment during CSPs, students enrolled in pharmacy assistant courses also learn to apply clean techniques in their daily duties to limit the possible spread of infection, such as washing their hands and wearing gloves when handling prescription and drugs and other pharmaceutical products.
However, the use of sterile items and techniques is not always necessary, as the goal is to reduce the number of germs rather than eliminate them entirely.
Keeping Your Training Fresh Throughout Your Pharmacy Assistant Career
Pharmacies that offer compounding facilities run training exercises for their staff at least a couple of times a year to refresh their skills. While aseptic technique may seem fairly straightforward, executing it correctly can be tricky, and staff needs to be monitored to ensure they are able to perform the more difficult parts of the process, such as maintaining sterile airflow to vials, syringes and tubing.
Training exercises are usually done using ‘media fill’ in place of pharmaceutical products. This is a sterile soy-based powder which is incubated for 14 days after the training, and will become cloudy if bacterial contamination is present.
Not all pharmaceutical courses include training in aseptic technique, and being able to perform it will greatly enhance your pharmacy assistant career prospects. More importantly, knowing how to create a sterile environment will ensure you can provide a safe, risk-free service to customers.
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