The influence of water on the resistance of spores to inactivation by gaseous ethylene oxide



Standardized conditions for exposure to ethylene oxide were used to evaluate the resistance of spores dried for various times at different relative humidities and temperatures. Spores dried under conditions of high humidity exhibited low resistance to the sterilant, the resistance increasing as the relative humidity (RH) was decreased. Increasing the temperature of drying amplified this effect by reducing the time required for equilibration to a specific RH. Spores dried over a desiccant at 37°C showed a slight rise followed by a fall in resistance. Spores maintained under these conditions for a long period of time increased in resistance. Spores rapidly dried by exposure to low RH, over a desiccant or at elevated temperature, dried unevenly resulting in a heterogeneous population with respect to ethylene oxide resistance. This was expressed as non-logarithmic survivor curves. The initial vacuum drawn influences resistance. The resistance of spores dried on aluminium foil increased as the pressure was reduced. The rate at which the pressure was reduced had little effect on resistance, except with highly desiccated spores. Dried spores held at different reduced pressures with humidification, showed no differences in resistance. The implications of these findings in relation to the operation of ethylene oxide sterilization cycles and the preparation and use of biological monitors is discussed.