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Published On: Thu, Jun 25th, 2020

How is Covid-19 Medical Waste Handled

The covid -19 pandemic has had tremendous effects on both the health and waste management sectors. It has forced the municipal waste operators and public authorities to take drastic measures towards proper sanitization. Hospitals have also been more cautious when dealing with wastes from infected individuals to prevent it from spreading further. This article will enlighten you on appropriate medical waste management.

Handling of healthcare waste

All wastes generated during patient care must be carefully disposed of. Though there is no direct evidence linking covid -19 transmissions to unprotected human contact with healthcare wastes, there is still a need for proper medical waste management. All wastes produced during patient care are infectious and should be carefully collected and put in marked containers, treated on-site, and safely disposed of. The risk of the virus spreading further significantly increases when wastes are treated off-site. If necessary, great care should be taken not to contaminate surfaces on the way to the site. Where there is a massive generation of highly infectious wastes, treatment technologies such as incarnation and autoclaving could be applied to sustain the operation.

Waste generated in waiting bays of hospitals is classified as non-hazardous. They should be collected in durable waste bags, sealed completely, and disposed of in the right way. Workers handling healthcare waste should put on the proper personal protective equipment all the time. This includes a long-sleeved gown, masks, heavy-duty gloves, boots, and a face shield.

photo/ Miguel Á. Padriñán

Toilet cleaning and handling of feces

Hand hygiene is paramount, where there is possible contact with feces. Patients who are in critical conditions might not be able to use the toilet. In this case, their feces should be collected in a bedpan or diaper and immediately disposed of into a separate latrine meant for suspected or confirmed covid-19 patients. All healthcare facilities should treat feces as a biohazard to prevent the spread of certain diseases.

All bedpans should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Neutral detergents and water are great for cleaning, and a 0.5 percent chlorine solution perfect for disinfection. Ammonium compounds like cetylpyridinium also serve as suitable disinfectants. Rinse water should be channeled into a toilet or a drain to prevent people from coming into contact with it. Individuals with soiled protective equipment should immediately treat them by using a 10 percent lime slurry, where off-site treatment is not possible.

Sanitation and plumbing

It is necessary to provide confirmed covid-19 patients with a separate latrine or flush toilet. Patients sharing the same ward are supposed to share the same toilet to avoid interacting with those from different wards. Flush toilets should be equipped with functional drain taps and should operate all the time properly. Patients must always flush the toilets while the lid is down to prevent aerosol clouds and droplet spatter from contaminating the air and surfaces. Where covid-19 patients cannot use their own toilets, a well-trained cleaner should be there to clean and disinfect the place throughout the day.

According to the World Health Organization, poor air ventilation and faulty plumbing are some of the factors that contribute to the spread of aerosolized covid -19 infections. Therefore, it is essential to seal all bathroom drains and faucets and ensure that plumbing is well-maintained and up to standard.

Safe cleaning of the environment and laundry

There is a set of cleaning and disinfection rules that should be adhered to when dealing with potentially infected laundry and other equipment. Linen used by patients should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least once in a day, and after they have been discharged. Some of the disinfectants useful towards fighting viruses include; 70 percent ethyl alcohol ( for use on surfaces and equipment), and 0.5 percent sodium hypochlorite ( on body fluid spills and blood).

Before applying disinfectant on a surface, it is crucial to first clean it with water and a detergent. This is because the efficacy of disinfectants is hugely affected by organic materials. 

Contaminated clothes should be put in labeled, leak-proof containers. It is important to remove all the solid excretions and dispose of them in a covered container before handling the laundry. A machine wash with warm water ( usually 60-90 degrees Celsius ), and strong detergents are recommended. Where machine washing is not possible, the laundry can be soaked in a large drum with water and soap for a while, then emptied and dipped again in 0.05 percent chlorine for about 30 minutes. Excretions on surfaces should be wiped off using a towel and disposed of in the toilet. If the towels are reusable, they should be treated well.

Disposing water from washing surfaces, floors, and protective equipment

After use, it is necessary to wash all heavy-duty gloves and re-usable aprons with a 0.5 percent sodium hypochlorite solution. Discard all single-use cloves as infectious wastes and don’t re-use them. Greywater should be carefully disposed of in drains joined to a soak-away pit, septic system, or a sewer. There is no need to chlorinate or treat it again. Soak-away pits must be fenced to prevent possible exposure in case it overflows.

Management of dead bodies

Though the risk of getting infected with covid-19 from handling an infected dead body is low, all healthcare workers should always take the necessary precautions. They should wear impermeable disposable gowns, scrub units, face shields, boots, masks, and gloves when handling dead bodies. All personal protective equipment should be removed carefully, decontaminated, and disposed of after use. It is required that bodies of deceased persons be wrapped in a piece of fabric and taken to the mortuary as soon as possible. Body bags may be used where there is excess body leakage.

Management of wastes at home

People caring for infected family members at home should pack all wastes generated in black trash bags and seal them entirely before collection by the municipal waste services. All materials such as tissue used while coughing and sneezing should be thrown in a bin with immediate effect, after which proper hand hygiene is performed.

What are the proper hand hygiene practices

Proper hand hygiene significantly reduces the risk of contracting the virus. After coughing or sneezing, it is appropriate to wash your hands and adequately dispose of used tissue paper. It is also recommended that you wash your hands upon reaching home before touching anything.

Materials required for hand hygiene

Hand hygiene sanitation consists of running water, liquid soap, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers. The ratio in which detergent and water are used depends on the strength and types of products available locally. According to specialists, ordinary soap is quite effective in killing viruses. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain 60 percent of alcohol at least. Where soap or sanitizers are not available, ash or soil can be used instead. Ash is known to have a high Ph, and therefore works by inactivating pathogens. It is advisable to be careful when dealing with soil since it may be contaminated with pathogens, especially in places with poor sanitation services.

Author: Brenda Vollman

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