Preventing the Spread of Ebola: Healthcare Workers’ Responsibility

Posted by | October 2, 2014 10:53 AM

It’s true that we are advanced in the United States and we may be able to treat these patients diagnosed with Ebola. However, what happens when we spend time treating the disease only to wind up with hospital workers infected as well? Improper training, personal protection, and management of infectious waste can be fatal for workers who may come in contact with Ebola patients or contaminated waste.

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So what can you do? Here are 5 simple steps to prevent the spread of a virus.

1. Proper PPE and Hygiene

Of course proper personal protective equipment must be worn to avoid being exposed to infections. A list of PPE recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can be found here. However, do you know the proper sequence for putting on and removing PPE? This handy poster from the CDC will help.

To see more about how Emory University Hospital managed removing their PPE in the isolation unit while treating patients with Ebola, check out this video from Emory.

It’s also vital to remember to wash your hands with soap and water whenever possible and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.

2. Training and Inservices

In an announcement posted by the CDC on September 30, 2014 announcing the first Ebola case diagnosed in the US, the CDC stated “healthcare professionals have been reminded to use meticulous infection control at all times.” One of the most important components of infection control is proper training for staff who may manage or come in contact with infectious waste at any point. These employees need to maintain complete and up to date OSHA certifications for things like bloodborne pathogens training. Reviewing these trainings with your staff in periodic inservices can help keep this information front of mind as well.

3. Infectious Waste Management

Dr. Aneesh Mehta from Emory University Hospital was quoted saying “at its peak, we were up to 40 bags a day of medical waste, which took a huge tax on our waste management system” when referring to the patients they were treating with Ebola. Proper management of medical sharps waste is vital to preventing the spread of disease. Step one is finding a trusted medical waste disposal company to pick up and dispose of your medical waste. They should work with you to determine the frequency of pickups that makes sense for your facility and provide you with or direct you to appropriate storage containers and bags.

4. Advanced Planning for Managing Isolation Waste

Talk to your medical waste disposal company about having a system in place in case of a sudden increase in the amount of waste you need to dispose of. Find out how to add additional pickups or get more containers to your facility.

In recent news there have been reports of Emory University Hospital’s medical waste disposal company refusing to pick up their medical waste from the patients with Ebola. The reason this occurred is because the Department of Transportation (DOT) considered this waste to be Category A waste which requires special packaging and transportation different from regular medical waste.

According to the DOT “Category A clinical waste is an infectious substance which is transported in a form that, when exposure to it occurs, is capable of causing permanent disability, life-threatening or fatal disease in otherwise healthy humans or animals.” However, at the same time the CDC stated infectious waste could be disposed of like other biohazardous waste and that there was no recommended packaging that is currently approved for transporting Ebola waste (or Category A clinical waste) specifically.

These conflicting federal rules complicated the already high-stress situation for Emory University Hospital. National Waste & Recycling Association Communication Director Thomas Metzger said, waste disposal companies are “bound by those regulations.” Confusing? Indeed. So what can we do to be prepared for a situation like this?

5. Stay Up to Date on Virus Information, Laws and Regulations

By staying up to date on symptoms of a virus like Ebola you can be sure to ask proper patient questions like travel history. By staying alert and up to date, we can do our very best to stop Ebola from ever spreading across the US.

Reuters posted an update on the issue of managing infectious waste disposal at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas. This is the hospital currently treating the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the US. The article said “The United States is days away from settling the critical question of how hospitals should handle and dispose of medical waste from Ebola patients, a government official said on Wednesday.” Read more here.

It is important to stay up to date with regulation information like this because changes may affect the way we manage other types of medical and infectious waste moving forward.

Update: on Friday, October 3rd the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it has issued an emergency special permit allowing a single medical waste disposal company to transport large quantities of Ebola-contaminated waste in the state of Texas for disposal. There is still no word on a non-conflicting law for future transportation in other states and by other vendors.

 

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