Disinfectants Defined

by Staff Writer | February 1, 2008

You don’t need to be a microbiologist to use disinfectants, but you do need to be an educated user. In order to create a common vocabulary for this important topic, we’ve listed some terms and their commonly accepted definitions. You won’t necessarily find all these words on every label, but they’re likely to show up and it’s important to understand what they mean.

Bactericidal: kills bacteria

Biofilm: a thin layer of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that coats surfaces

Bloodborne pathogens: microorganisms present in human blood, or other potentially infectious body fluids, that can cause disease in humans

Broad-spectrum: works on a variety of pathogens

Chelating surfactant: a cleaner that works in hard water; when used properly, chelating surfactants act like “microscopic scrub brushes” and remove biofilm

Disinfectant: a substance used to destroy microorganisms on non-living surfaces, such as implements and surfaces

EPA-registered: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reviewed and approved the supporting data submitted by the manufacturer to show the product’s efficacy as tested against the EPA standard

Fungicidal: kills fungi (molds and mildew)

Hepatitis B: a disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver; the virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death

Hepatitis C: a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is found in the blood of persons who have the disease; spread by contact with the blood of an infected person

HIV-1: a more virulent strain of the virus that leads to AIDS; it is transmitted more easily and is the cause of the majority of HIV infections globally

Hospital-grade: effective in killing a wide range of germs, including many varied strains of bacteria, fungi, and viruses; the standard used in hospitals and medical facilities

Microorganisms: organisms of microscopic size such as bacteria, viruses or fungi

Pathogen: microorganism capable of producing an infection

Tuberculocidal: kills mycobacterium tuberculosis

Virucidal: kills viruses (look for the words: “effective against viruses such as Herpes Simplex 1 and 2, Hepatitis B and C, and HIV-1”)

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