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How to reduce radiation contamination in a hospital isolation room

Radiation is an important tool for treating and detecting diseases. Nonetheless, exposure levels should be kept as low as possible as radiation can also trigger unwanted biological changes in the body. Ionizing radiation can cause cellular mutations and/or cell death. In a tightly controlled therapy, this is good. When it is random or secondary exposure to someone other than the patient, it is bad.

The way it works is, ionizing radiation is emitted from an electromagnetic source. It then strips electrons from its atoms, which causes chemical changes to the molecules. Care must be taken when dealing with radiation, for if exposure to therapeutic radiation is too lengthy or intense, it can cause irreparable damage.

In-hospital isolation rooms used by patients treated with I131 can be particularly problematic. Due to the often high doses administered, combined with the extended contact the patient has with surfaces in the room, surface contamination is a big issue. Even when surfaces are covered with plastic wrap or paper, surfaces still tend to get contaminated.

The time and expense of preparing the room for patient use, as well as the time spent removing the protective plastic/paper can be extensive. Add to that the time spent decontaminating what the protective coverings didn’t stop, and it adds up to a lot of technologist time. This is time which could be spent on more productive tasks in the department.

Anything which can be done to reduce wasted technologist time means that the technologist can focus on more productive, revenue generating tasks for the department. Furthermore, reducing the time it takes to bring the isolation down to background levels can results in a reduction of patient backlogs.

It has been shown that by placing a decontaminating hand/body soap in the patient room and instructing them to wash their hands frequently with this soap, as well as use it in the shower, results in less contamination being spread in the room. This translates into less technologist time spent cleaning the room.

Additionally, the less contaminated the room is, the less the technologist will be exposed secondary radiation during the cleanup process. This is particularly important with I131 and it’s high energy beta emissions.

In today’s healthcare environment, productivity is the mandate. Reducing technologist time spent cleaning can lead to a direct increase in the time they have for productive tasks, such as patient scans. Increased productivity directly benefits the department and the hospital as a whole.

In healthcare, contaminated surfaces are the number one cause of accidental exposure to residual radiation. In fact, studies show that a typical healthcare professional working with radiation patients and surfaces has hands that are likely covered with trace amounts of radiation. Hence, reducing contamination in hospital isolation rooms is essential to lowering the amount of radiation that patients and healthcare workers are exposed to.

ALARA Regulations

Several official guidelines exist that are designed to ensure that radiation contamination levels are kept in accordance with ALARA regulations. ALARA stands for “As Low as Reasonably Achievable.” It refers to taking every measure necessary to ensure that exposure to radiation is kept well below acceptable dosage limits. Listed below are the aforementioned ALARA guidelines:

1. Wear protective coats – This will minimize the chance that personal clothing becomes contaminated.

2. Check incoming packages and surfaces for contamination – There should be standard procedure enacted where all packages that either enter or leave are thoroughly checked for contamination.

3. Use latex gloves – Latex gloves can help limit the amount of radiation that one can be exposed to in an isolation room. They should be used when dealing with any contaminants. Late gloves should also be removed and replaced continuously throughout the day.

4. Employ lead materials – Using lead lined storage containers, lead lined waste bins, and lead bricks will help reduce contamination and chronic contamination to hazardous materials.

5. Use syringe shields – The use of syringe shields will help lower contamination, and they work hand-in-hand with latex gloves. Additionally, decontaminating the syringe shields help eliminate cross-contamination and contamination of the skin. They will also eliminate the direct exposure to the source of radiation.

6. Use decontamination soap – Daily use of decontamination soap will remove low levels of contaminants that may not be detected by hand monitors.

7. Refrain from consuming foodstuffs – Never eat, drink, or chew gum in or around contaminants.

8. Keep a safe distance from spills – Quickly move away from the source of contamination should an accidental spill occur. Maintaining a safe distance from the contamination source can reduce or completely protect from its effects.

In short, radiation is a powerful therapeutic tool, and when it’s not handled with care it can also be a dangerous one. When working in radiation areas, be sure to observe ALARA guidelines at all times for your patients, your coworkers, and your own health and safety.

Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about reducing radiation contamination in a hospital isolation room.

Regular soap won’t do when dealing with radioactive contaminants

As radiation is an effective tool in detecting and treating many medical conditions, Nuclear Medicine Technologists working in hospitals face exposure on a daily basis. As a part of a typical diagnostic regimen, patients are exposed to a low amount of radiation for a short period of time. Exposure to low levels of radiation is not considered harmful, and precautions are taken to limit the amount a patient is exposed to.

However, when Nuclear Medicine Technologists work with radioactive materials on a daily basis, they experience many instances of exposure to these otherwise low-risk contaminants. Prolonged exposure to radiation, or when it remains in contact with the skin too long, can cause damage to skin cells and eventually lead to skin cancer. Thus, it’s essential that Nuclear Medicine Technologists wash their hands frequently throughout their work day with decontamination soap and warm water. Even when gloves and lab coats are worn, contact with skin is inevitable. Typical hand monitors have very low sensitivity and may not detect contamination unless it is fairly high.

Regular Soap vs Decontamination Soap

Regular hand soap is effective in killing bacterial contaminants on our skin, but it fails to remove radioactive contaminants that Nuclear Medicine Technologists are commonly exposed to. Basic hand soap usually contains the following ingredients:c

  • Surfactants
  • Builders
  • Alkalis
  • Antimicrobial agents.

Surfactants modify the chemical properties of water to make it a better cleanser. A surfactant, in effect, dissolves greasy substances and soil. It does not, however, bind or remove radioactive contaminants.

Builders are ingredients in soap that helps make its cleansing action more effective. They work by first removing minerals from the water, then removing grease that bonds with the soil particles. This is actually the only ingredient in regular hand soap that may work to remove radioactive contaminants from your skin.

Alkalis break down the acidic properties of soil and grease, which is why they are used in regular hand soaps. An alkali will not be effective in removing radioactive contaminants. Antimicrobial agents work to kill bacteria and help to stop the spread of illnesses, but do nothing to remove radioactive contamination.

In short, regular hand soap works great to break down and remove grease, oils, dirt, and bacteria, but is much less effective at removing the radioactive contaminants that get on the skin of a Nuclear Medicine Technologist. Thus, special decontamination soap should be used whenever possible.

Standard decontamination solutions are for surfaces, not skin. They are usually very harsh, dry out skin and smell unpleasant. Furthermore, because of the severe irritation they can cause, it may even lead to internal absorption due to the raw skin. It’s important to find a decontamination soap that will not irritate the skin, that will effectively bind and remove the contaminants, and has moisturizers and a pleasant scent just like regular soap. This is important in keeping hands moisturized through the many washings they will be subjected to throughout a technologist’s normal workday.

Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about our radioactive decontamination products including our Bind-It Hand Soap, the only decontamination hand soap designed to decontaminate skin and hair without the harshness or dryness of other products. 

Protecting Your Family and Household Against Radioactive Iodine

Patients who receive radioactive iodine I-131 cancer therapy have to be vigilant against exposing their household members to potentially harmful contamination. During this form of nuclear medicine therapy, the radioactive iodine is targeted at the thyroid gland, but not the other bodily organs and tissues. And as iodine is excreted through bodily fluids such as saliva, urine and perspiration, others who share the same living space can be exposed to harmful radioactive contamination. When the patience leaves their in-home isolation area, the danger to family members is not over.

Guidelines to follow

Although there are precautions you can take to minimize the harmful effects of radioactive iodine on others, you will still need to do a comprehensive household decontamination with special cleaning supplies. In addition, while receiving this powerful and potent cancer therapy, your doctor may advise several aggressive precautionary guidelines, including:

  • Avoiding physical contact with other members of the household, including sleeping alone
  • Flushing your toilet twice after every use
  • Washing your hands frequently with decontamination soap
  • Avoiding cooking for others
  • Using plastic gloves to cook
  • Keeping all clothing and linens separate from the rest of the household
  • Placing all paper dishes, pads, tissues, bandages, and paper towels in plastic bags, and return them to your them to your clinic for waste disposal or decayed at home

Additionally, there are special soaps and cleaners that should be used to minimize and remove radioactive contamination from your home. While decontamination soaps are great for removing the contaminants from the skin, they are not as effective on surfaces. around the house. Therefore, special decontamination sprays should be used to clean the toilet, the shower, floors and other hard surfaces.

A common mistake of many patients is to use regular toilet cleaners and/or bleach and think that they are cleaning the radioactive iodine. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Bleach and other harsh household cleaners can cause the radioactive iodine to become gaseous and spread over a larger area.The only way to ensure that the radioactive iodine removed so that it is not a danger to children and spouses is by using soaps and cleaners designed with special ingredients to eliminate these contaminants. These decontaminant sprays, which are the very same ones used in nuclear medicine facilities, can be purchased for home use as well. They are commercial grade quality, but designed specifically for your home.

In sum, nuclear medicine is a very powerful method for diagnosing and treating many diseases within the body. However, radioactive iodine therapy, like many other nuclear medicine techniques, requires a thorough understanding of how to handle and properly decontaminate any items or surfaces the patient comes into contact with. To avoiding contaminating others, there must be a comprehensive decontamination protocol followed at all times, and it must be strictly adhered until your therapy is completed, you open your isolation are, and your physician gives you the okay to resume a normal lifestyle.

Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about protecting your home against radioactive iodine. Also learn more about our Bind-It Patient Care Pack which will minimize the contamination in your home’s isolation room.  

Why a Nuclear Medicine Technologist Should Use Decontamination Soap 

Every day, nuclear medicine technologists expose themselves to the risk of contamination from the radiopharmaceuticals that they work with in their clinic, lab or medical facility. Despite the use of protective gloves while working with these substances, techs or administrators still run the risk of contaminating their skin. 

“Ionizing radiation is a known carcinogen at high doses, and clinical symptoms are known to be associated with chronic low-dose exposure,” (Bolus, 2008). When nuclear medicine technologists work with this radioactive material, they are subjected to low doses of radiation and skin contamination even when they are wearing gloves. There are concerns that this low-dose exposure can lead to eye cataracts and even worse, cancer. 

What Can Nuclear Medicine Technologists Do To Prevent This Type of Skin Contamination?

There are basic rules and regulations to lessen and prevent the absorption of radioactive materials that can get into the body through ingestion, inhalation, and absorption through the skin. Basic guidelines include no eating or drinking in the lab to avoid ingestion as well as the use of gloves and lab coats to prevent skin absorption.

Even with these precautions, low dose skin contamination probably happens much more often than is realized.  Geiger-Mueller based hand monitors may not show low-level contamination due to their inherently poor sensitivity to most nuclear medicine isotopes.  

It is important however to make sure that you use decontamination soap to wash your hands after handling any type of radiation. “Cuts and abrasions can increase the likelihood of absorption, and an individual should never try to decontaminate radioactive contamination of the skin by using abrasive brushes or pads or caustic chemicals, such as bleach,” (Bolus, 2008).  

It is essential to use soap that is specifically designed to bind to and remove radioactive contaminants from the skin, yet be gentle enough for routine use to ensure even low level contamination is removed.  Bind-It™ Hand Soap is designed for this purpose.

Nuclear medicine technologists need to take extreme caution when dealing with these types of radioactive materials for their own safety. Protective gear can is extremely helpful but some radiation can still be found on their skin even when they use protective gloves. “Local contamination was found on the fingers of nuclear medicine technologists in 40 cases (out of the 560 inspected over a ten month period), but the increasing awareness caused a significant reduction over time,” (Covens, Peter, Berus, Danielle, Caveliers, Vicky, Struelens, Lara, Verellen, and Dirk, 2012). This equals seven percent of the nuclear medicine technologists tested. 

Imagine how this number could have been effected if these departments implemented a safety standard for washing hands with Bind-It™ decontamination hand soap after each interaction with the radiopharmaceuticals.

Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about our radioactive decontamination products including our Bind-It Hand Soap, the only decontamination hand soap designed to decontaminate skin and hair without the harshness or dryness of other products. 

Sources:

Bolus, N. E. (2008). Review of common occupational hazards and safety concerns for nuclear medicine technologists*. Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology, 36(1), 11-7.

Covens, Peter, Berus, Danielle, Caveliers, Vicky, Struelens, Lara, Verellen, and Dirk. Skin contamination of nuclear medicine technologists: incidence, routes, dosimetry and decontamination. (2012). Nuclear Medicine Communications. Volume 33(10), p. 1024-1031. Williams & Wilkins, Inc. 

 

Nuclear Medicine Technologist Safety 101

Nuclear medicine technologists are exposed daily to low levels of ionizing radiation.  It is the nature of the job.  However regulations, department policies, ALARA and common sense all follow that whatever practical steps can be taken to minimize this exposure can and should be followed.  Rapid, high level exposure to gamma radiation has known and demonstrably bad effects.  The effects of chronic, low level exposure may be more insidious and difficult to track – except perhaps in the very long term, at which time any damage has been long ago done.  The prudent technologist takes whatever – even seemingly small steps – they can to reduce the cumulative effects of exposure.

What are some of the ways in which nuclear medicine technologists protect themselves against undue exposure and/or contamination?

A few steps are:

  • Wearing protective lab coats minimizes the chance of personal clothing becoming contaminated in the event of a spill or other accident.  Latex gloves protect hands (but don’t necessarily eliminate) from contamination after contact with liquid doses, contaminated surfaces and contaminated syringe shields.

  • Using syringe shields to attenuate the majority of gamma and xray radiation during handling of the syringe to inject the patient.
  • Using lead bricks, L-blocks and lead lined storage furniture and waste recepticles also help to reduce chronic exposure.
  • Regular, daily use of decontamination soap  such as Bind-It hand soap removes even low level hand contamination that may not be indicated by G.M. based hand monitors.  This is an especially crucial step prior to breaking for lunch or leaving for the day.
  • Practicing common sense precautions by not eating, drinking or chewing gum in the department or hot lab.  
  • Diligently checking incoming packages and hot lab surfaces for contamination.  Prompt removal of any discovered contamination.
  • Regular decontamination of syringe shields to minimize hand contamination and cross-contamination of other surfaces.
  • Keeping a general awareness of your environment and actions.  Radioactive contamination can enter your system through ingestion, inhalation and absorption through the skin.  Attention to detail is the best first defense. 

Following these and any other procedures implemented by the Radiation Safety Officers will result in a safer workplace, minimize technologist exposure over time, ensure the ALARA principles are being met and make regulatory inspectors and radiation safety personnel happy.

Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about our nuclear medicine technologist safety measures as well as our line of radioactive decontamination products.

How To Increase Nuclear Medicine Department Productivity

Advances in technology have lead to increases in the productivity of nuclear medicine departments. In addition, medical imaging has also been affected significantly by these advances in technology. The speed and automation of tasks has greatly increased through computing developments and, in turn, the ability of the nuclear medicine department to handle increased workload with existing staff is directly increased.  This in turn allows the department to generate more revenue.

Nuclear medicine is used for the and diagnosis and often treatment of medical conditions through the use of radioactive isotopes. Many different advances have lead to more efficient data collection and easier readability of results through these many new technologies. This allows nuclear medicine departments to cut their patients’ wait time and to see more individuals on a daily basis.

More and more processes have become automated, and this decreases the amount of time technologists spend doing menial tasks, further increasing overall efficiency.  Adams, Cox, Schofield, and Adamson also conducted a study on the emergence of technology and how it affects the productivity of nuclear medicine technology. “Findings in this systematic review show that substantial technological developments in computing, camera design, and information technology over the past decade in NM have made acquisition, data processing, and image processing quicker and more automated” (Adams, E., Cox, J., Schofield, D., & Adamson, B., 2009).

Advances in information and image processing have also had an effect on the nuclear medicine department’s productivity. Electronic storage devices with increases in storage capacity help to manage the large amount of data that this department needs to store. The majority of the processes that this department is responsible for consists of accessing data, processing images, and retrieving old examinations. The increased productivity of these processes leads to the overall productivity of the department. Add this to the advent of digital imaging, instead of manual process film, and the productivity level increases exponentially. 

Advances in automation of the hot lab are also increasing technologist and department productivity.  Multi-well wipe counters are now saving hours of valuable technologist time.  Faster acquisition and automatic identification of wipe contaminants allows easier operation and quicker remediation.

Overall, the advances in technology have lead to a dramatic increase in the productivity of nuclear medicine departments nationwide. It has created a decrease in manual processing of data and manual searching of past data. These processes have made the collection of life saving data easier and more efficient. Continued advances in this field will lead to less and less hands-on procedures which, in turn, will lead to minimal exposure time to radioactive materials for nuclear medicine technologists.

Call (800) 542-1123 or visit www.labtechinc.com to learn more about increasing nuclear medicine department productivity.

Sources:

Adams, E., Cox, J., Schofield, D., & Adamson, B. (2009). The effects of technological developments on nuclear medicine technologist productivity: A systematic review. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care, 25(3), 383-90. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0266462309990195

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