We have been accustomed to seeing the word “biohazard” as well as the Universal “biohazard” symbol in everything from the medical environment to our favorite television shows and movies. For those in the industries involving biohazard, they know that there are specific compliance guidelines required for everything that is categorized as biohazardous.
The word “biohazard” is derived from the combination of “bio” for biological and “hazard” for dangerous. Biohazard means any biological material that carries a significant health risk for humans or the environment. However, digging a little deeper the word “hazard” is believed to have been taken from a French word that had its origins in Arabic az-zahr, which means “one of the dice” or simply “the dice.” It referred to a game that was later used by both the English and French involving dice and related to the idea of taking a chance based on the outcome of the throw of the dice in a risk or venture. The word “biological” was created in the early 19th century and was most widely used as a German term that was taken from the French who borrowed it from the Greek word “bios” which means “life” + -logy.
Biohazard Classifications and Levels
For the purpose of transportation, biohazardous agents are classified by – a 4-digit UN number based on a numbering series agreed upon by the United Nations for international travel, an “NA” number for transportation of hazardous materials transported in North America issued by the Department of Transportation, and/or an “ID” number for air transportation. Each numbering sequence identifies the type of hazardous materials contained. NA numbers are identical to UN numbers, however, there may be some substances that are not included in the UN numbering list that will have an NA number.
Category A, UN2814 is all infectious substances that can affect humans that could cause permanent disabilities, are life-threatening, or can cause fatal diseases in otherwise healthy humans or animals when exposed to it.
Category A, UN2900 is all infectious substances that can affect only animals and is not in a form that could generally cause permanent disabilities, are life-threatening, or cause fatal diseases to otherwise health humans and animals when exposed to it.
Category B, UN3373 is all biological substances transported for investigative or diagnostic purposes.
Regulated Medical Waste, UN3291 is all waste or reusable materials that are derived from medical treatments of humans or animals, or from biomedical research including testing and production.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the U.S. created a series of levels of disease within the biohazard definition.
Level 1: Viruses and bacteria including chickenpox (varicella), canine hepatitis, Bacillus subtilis, and Escherichia coli, as well as a variety of cell cultures and bacteria deemed non-infectious. Level 1 precautions are listed as “minimal,” typically with the use of PPE gloves and some face protection.
Level 2: These are viruses and bacteria that could cause mild disease in humans and/or may be difficult to contract from aerosol in a laboratory setting. Examples of Level 2 can include hepatitis A, B, and C, some strains of influenza, Lyme disease, measles, mumps, salmonella, dengue fever, Human respiratory syncytial virus and HIV. Diagnostic work with Level 2 clinical specimens using Biosafety Level 2 protocols specific to the location of the work.
Level 3: These are viruses and bacterial that can cause from severe to completely fatal diseases in humans but do have treatments and/or vaccines. Examples of Level 2 include: West Nile virus, anthrax, SARS coronavirus, MERS coronavirus, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, SARS-CoV-2, malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.
Level 4: These are viruses that can cause from severe to completely fatal diseases in humans that don’t have treatments or vaccines available. Examples of Level 4 include: Ebola virus, Marburg virus, Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and other hemorrhagiv diseases. When working with Level 4 the use of a positive pressure personnel suit with segregated air supply is a requirement. There is a list of detailed mandatory guidelines required for Level 4 biohazard materials involving environment, entrances, exits, showers, ultraviolet light, air and water systems for contamination prevention.
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