Patient Safety Awareness Week: Ultrasound Probe Disinfection

Implementing ultrasound probe disinfection guidelines has been found to boost patient safety.

Healthcare facilities that follow evidence-based guidelines for the disinfection of ultrasound probes enable physicians to perform ultrasound exams that boost patient safety. Reducing ultrasound probe cross-infection risk can aid in reducing healthcare associated infections (HAIs).1-2 Up to 70% of HAIs are preventable using existing infection prevention practices. 3-4 Infectious transmission occurs due to:5

1. Inadequate cleaning,
2. Improper selection and use of a disinfecting agent, and
3. Failure to follow recommended cleaning and disinfection procedures.6

Focusing on point two highlights how important it is to apply the correct level of disinfection when decontaminating ultrasound probes.

For example, when a transvaginal ultrasound examination is performed, the probe comes in contact with the mucus membrane, and the potential risk of cross-infection is considered medium to high.

Based on the Spaulding classification, the transvaginal probe is classified as semi-critical and is required to be high-level disinfected. This ensures that all viable microorganisms are destroyed, except a small number of bacterial spores. While low-level disinfectants only kill vegetative bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi, and non-enveloped viruses remain.1-2

What is the impact on patient safety when the incorrect disinfection is applied?

A retrospective cohort study using linked national datasets from Scotland, spanning from 2010 to 2016, shows the infection risk following transvaginal ultrasound procedures. The study highlighted the impact to patient safety when low-level disinfection was applied instead of high-level disinfection. The study revealed an increase in infection risk in the 30 days following transvaginal ultrasound. The patients were 26% more likely to be prescribed antibiotics.7

Following evidence-based ultrasound probe disinfection guidelines ensures quality health outcomes when using ultrasound.

Reference: 1. ACIPC-ASUM. Guidelines for Reprocessing Ultrasound Transducers. Australasian Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine. 2017;20(1):30-40. 2. Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008 Electronically accessed:, June 2014. 3. Scott, RD. The Direct Medical Costs of Healthcare-Acquired Infections in US Hospitals and the Benefits of Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1–13, 2009. 4.Bearman, G., Doll, M., Cooper, K. et al. Hospital Infection Prevention: How Much Can We Prevent and How Hard Should We Try? Curr Infect Dis Rep 21, 2 (2019). 5.The Joint Commission, improperly sterilized or HLD equipment – a growing problem; Quick Safety Issue 33, May 2017. 6. CDC Health Alert Network September 11, 2015. Available from: 7. Scott. D et al., Risk of infection following semi-invasive ultrasound procedures in Scotland, 2010 to 2016: A retrospective cohort study using linked national datasets, Ultrasound. 2018 Aug;26(3):168-177. doi: 10.1177/1742271X18774594.