Biosafety experts believe that United States hospitals may be unprepared to properly dispose of infectious waste generated by Ebola virus disease patients that might arrive unannounced in the country.
Federal guidelines mandate that Ebola-related waste be handled by specialized personnel, trained in hazardous material disposal. They also require that the material be sealed in special packaging and as such, waste management companies are no longer accepting to haul away soiled sheets or virus-spattered protective gear.
What’s worrisome is that many U.S. hospitals aren’t aware of these guidelines and experts believe that this threatens their ability of treating people who develop Ebola on U.S. soil after returning from infected regions.
The first hospital to face this issue was the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, as it was the first institution to receive Ebola patients in the U.S. Two missionaries who had been evacuated from West Africa in August were brought to this hospital for treatment. Soon after, Stericycle, the hospital’s trash hauler, refused to handle the hospital’s waste. The company declined to comment on their decision.
“At its peak, we were up to 40 bags a day of medical waste, which took a huge tax on our waste management system,”
said Dr. Aneesh Mehta, from the Emory University Hospital during a medical meeting earlier this month.
Hospital staff had to go to Home Depot and buy all the 32-gallon rubber waste containers with lids that they could find. The waste from patients had to be kept in a special, contaminated area, for six days. It was only after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention negotiated an agreement with Stericycle, that Emory could continue disposing of its waste.
And while many hospitals may believe that they are prepared to deal with Ebola patients, Emory’s experience with waste disposal proves that logistically, most U.S. hospitals are far from ready, according to bioexperts.