The aldehydes glutaraldehyde, formaldehyde, and ortho-phthalaldehyde (OPA) destroy microorganisms and viruses by inactivating proteins and nucleic acids. A 2% solution of alkaline glutaraldehyde is one of the most widely used liquid chemical sterilants for treating heat-sensitive medical items. Immersion in a glutaraldehyde solution for 10 to 12 hours destroys all forms of microbial life, including endospores, and viruses. Soaking times as short as 10 minutes can be used to destroy vegetative bacteria. Glutaraldehyde is toxic, however, so treated items must be thoroughly rinsed with sterile water before use. Ortho-phthalaldehyde is a new type of disinfectant that is being studied as an alternative to glutaraldehyde.

Formaldehyde is used as a gas or an aqueous 37% solution called formalin. It is an extremely effective germicide that kills most forms of microbial life within minutes. Formalin is used to kill bacteria and to inactivate viruses for use as vaccines. It has also been used to preserve biological specimens. Formaldehyde's irritating vapors and suspected carcinogenicity, however, now limit its use.

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