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US Hospitals Not Prepared to Dispose Waste from Treating Ebola Patients

Update Date: Sep 24, 2014 09:40 AM EDT

Biosafety experts are concerned about how U.S. hospitals will dispose of any of the infectious waste that would generate after these facilities treat Ebola-infected patients. The experts state that these hospitals are not prepared which could jeopardize the safety of the community.

According to the experts, waste management companies are unwilling to take any soiled sheets or protective gear that might be contaminated with the virus. The companies stated, reported in Reuters, that the federal government demands that any waste associated with treating Ebola needs to be disposed of via special packaging, which has to be done by professionals with hazardous material training.

Waste disposal was initially a huge issue for Emory University Hospital located in Atlanta, GA. This hospital treated the first two Ebola-infected American patients who were transported from West Africa where they got the virus. Emory's waste handler, Stericycle, had initially refused to haul away any Ebola-related waste, which forced the hospital to go and purchase 32-gallon rubber waste containers with lids. They kept the waste in the containers within a containment area for six days until Stericycle agreed to take it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had worked out an agreement with the waste company.

"At its peak, we were up to 40 bags a day of medical waste, which took a huge tax on our waste management system," Emory's Dr. Aneesh Mehta mentioned to colleagues earlier this month.

Although the situation at Emory worked out for the best, the experts believe that clearer guidelines regarding proper ways to dispose of Ebola-related waste need to be enforced. The CDC recommends hospitals to put Ebola-infected waste into sealed containers and dispose of them like they would with other biohazards that are grouped under "regulated medical waste." The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), however, stated that since Ebola is a Category A Agent, which means that it is a life-threatening virus, it has to be handled by people with special packaging and hazmat training.

Due to these conflicting guidelines, many waste companies refuse to take these items, leaving the hospitals to find alternative methods of disposal.

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