Infection prevention and control guidelines

4. Aseptic technique

Principles and terminology

      1. Principles and terminology

Last revised: 18 Aug 2023

Principles and terminology

An aseptic technique aims to prevent pathogenic organisms, in sufficient quantity to cause infection, from being introduced to susceptible sites by hands, surfaces and equipment in healthcare settings.1

The historical term ‘sterile technique’ is no longer used because it is not possible to achieve a sterile technique in a typical healthcare setting. Near sterile techniques can only be achieved in controlled environments such as a laminar air flow cabinet or a specially equipped theatre.1

Levels of aseptic technique are classified as either standard aseptic technique or surgical aseptic technique.

Note: Other systems for assigning the level required for various clinical activities use the term ‘no-touch’ or ‘non-touch’ technique (see More information: international framework and terminology below).

Some healthcare practices use a clinical practice framework developed in the UK, which is known by the registered trademark ANTT (Aseptic Non-Touch Technique).2 Australian healthcare practices are not required to use ANTT, but can choose to use it if they wish, provided they comply with Australian standards.3

This international standard and clinical practice framework for aseptic technique was developed to standardise clinical competency among health workers performing procedures that require techniques previously termed aseptic, ‘sterile’, and ‘clean’ techniques.2

This framework is based on identifying ‘key sites’ on the patient’s body that require protection from pathogenic microorganisms, such as surgical wounds or intravenous cannula insertion sites,4 and identifying ‘key parts’ – aseptic parts of the procedure equipment that will be in contact with the patient or infusion fluids.4 Key sites and key parts are protected from contamination through a combination of hand hygiene, non-touch technique, and the use of new sterilised equipment and/or cleaning existing key parts to a standard that renders them aseptic prior to use.1 Key parts are modelled as a system of aseptic fields classified as ‘critical’ or ‘general’.1,4

The framework uses the simple rule that  aseptic key parts must only come into contact with other aseptic key-parts and/or key-sites.1

The framework has been used for standardising training and competency assessment among health workers.2,4