Objective: Argon plasma coagulation probes (APC) are currently marketed in the United States as single-use items, and may constitute a significant per-procedure expense. It is unknown whether these probes can be sterilized after endoscopic use and if electrical integrity can be maintained after reprocessing.
Methods: Ten probes (2.3 mm diameter, 220 cm length) manufactured by ERBE Inc., (Marietta, GA) were studied using the ERBE APC 300 at 60 watts. Baseline coagulation depth was measured by coagulating a piece of beefsteak for 60 s. Probes were contaminated with 10(6) Bacillus subtilis spores, cultured, and manually cleaned. Culturing involved introducing 10 cc sterile water through the probes; water was filtered, plated onto blood agar, and incubated for 48 h. After ethylene oxide (ETO), the probes were cultured to determine sterilization. Finally, the per-procedure cost of each probe was assessed.
Results: Ten of 10 probes completed 10 testing sessions. One probe split at the proximal end but remained functionally intact. Electrical integrity remained intact for all 10 sessions. All probes grew too numerous to count colonies of B. subtilis after inoculation and no B. subtilis was detected after ETO sterilization. Assuming 10 uses clinically, a total per-procedure equipment cost would approximate $24.00, whereas per-procedure probe cost would equal $42.66 if only five uses were obtained in vivo.
Conclusions: The combination of manual cleaning and ETO sterilization consistently sterilized APC probes. Ninety percent of the probes showed no sign of physical deterioration and 100% maintained their electrical activity after 10 uses. APC probes can potentially be safely and effectively reused up to 10 times, and a significant procedural savings is possible with reuse.