Zika, Ebola and Other Virus Concerns With Medical Waste
Medical waste disposal for laboratories is often overlooked when dealing with a viral epidemic like Zika or Ebola. Yet in parts of the world where waste disposal is not regulated, those labs responsible for testing could also be inadvertently spreading the virus to others.
What Type of Medical Waste Does a Laboratory Produce?
The main concern with a medical laboratory is with the bodily fluids they collect. Whether that collection is done on-site or sent in, once their testing is complete, the vials of blood and other fluids have to be handled in a manner that does not put the workers or public at risk for any infectious disease. Complicating the issue are off-site labs where samples are taken directly from patients. These types of walk-in clinics are also creating waste with syringes and other sharps, gauze, and collection containers.
Are Medical Fluids Flushable?
Under the right circumstances, small amounts of bodily fluids can be released into a septic system. Many bloodborne viruses, like Zika, will not remain stable for long in the environment. If the sewer being used for the disposal of blood waste is a sterile one, that process should further break down any pathogens and render them harmless. Dilution with water will help to further ensure the safety of any nearby water sources. These guidelines are easily met in developed countries with advanced medical knowledge and practices, but not always practical in the third world countries where virus outbreaks are more prevalent.
Since there is evidence in some parts of the world that the Ebola virus was transferred through drinkable water sources, laboratories need to be stringent about their own medical waste disposal procedures and weigh the risk of exposure. That risk is not limited to those working directly with bodily fluids, but also to those who can be affected by an inefficient disposal system of infected bodily fluids.
Are Blood Disposal Guidelines Different in Laboratories Versus Hospitals?
All facilities must be compliant with the bloodborne pathogens standard, but the individual laboratory should be evaluated in order to institute a plan of best practices. Each facility is unique, and should be evaluated in order to institute measures that eliminate any risk of exposure in relation to the circumstance. The issuance of an exposure control plan is the responsibility of the owner, and must include specific plans for medical waste disposal in laboratories.
The requirements made by federal and local government for medical waste disposal is one of the reasons why Zika, Ebola, and other viruses remain controlled in the United States. The outbreaks seen in other countries do not occur here because of the stringency in requirements that OSHA puts forth, and individual disposal company’s stringent abidance of them. From major metropolitan hospitals to small laboratories where blood is being sent for testing, we all have a responsibility to help minimize the risk of these diseases to the public through proper medical waste disposal practices.