Medical Waste Disposal and Dangerous Viruses. Medical waste is created in a variety of organizations, including tattoo parlors, dental practices, veterinary clinics/hospitals, blood banks, pharmacies, health care facilities, autopsy, funeral homes, and medical laboratories and research facilities. This form of medical waste in healthcare can be contaminated by body fluids, blood, and potentially infectious materials. All individuals that come in contact with these types of medical waste can be exposed to dangerous contaminants that could cause everything from illnesses to possible death. Education and training for proper disposal of medical waste is critical to avoid exposure, especially in the condition of the presence of dangerous viruses.
The environment of trying to heal injured and infected patients places healthcare facilities at high risk of contamination from dangerous viruses. The most common of the viruses that are considered to be high-risk for transmission include HIV, hepatitis B and C, and COVID-19. Without proper management and disposal the viruses can be transmitted in a number of ways including contact with contaminated blood and injuries from “sharps” (needles, syringes, disposable scalpels and blades). Sharps are considered to represent the highest hazardous risks to health and safety.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented increase in medical waste such as PPE (Personal Protection Equipment). All of the waste has the potential of being contaminated with the COVID-19 virus and has escalated additional precautions by everyone in the medical waste disposal industry as well as standard waste disposal companies. In the case of COVID-19, it represents a virus that is now being seen outside of the healthcare facilities as patients may be asymptomatic or recuperating at home.
While most bacteria can be controlled with antibiotic interventions, there are now some antibiotic resistant strains that have developed and are being found in healthcare environments. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are considered to be living organisms that create their own energy and can reproduce on their own. Viruses differ from bacteria as they are only “active” within the host cells that they require for reproduction. Viruses are not considered to be living organisms. The distinction between the two is important as it explains how they grow and the requirements for destruction. Most viruses that are outside of the host have a limited life-span, while bacteria can live and thrive in a variety of environments for long periods of time. This difference is also the basis for management and medical waste that can contain viruses.
Protocols have been established by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) that include strict guidelines for the disposal of many types of medical waste. The guidelines have been created to help protect both the staff that may come into contact with contaminants and those involved in collection and disposal of potentially hazardous waste. Regulated medical-waste items are placed in a single, leak-resistant biohazard bag. Puncture-resistant biohazard bags are used for the disposal of such items as sharps (needles, syringes, disposable blades and scalpels; discarded tubes or slides).
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