Sadly, the Ebola epidemic has not waned in Africa, nor remained contained. It has made its way to US soil—albeit with a very limited number of incidents—and is driving a fundamental reassessment of how medical waste is handled.
The Ebola virus is essentially a string of genetic material wrapped in a protein jacket. It cannot survive a 1,500 degree scorching within an incinerator, or the prolonged, pressurized steam of an autoclave. To prevent the spread of the virus, all materials that come in contact with the infected patient and his/her quarantined surroundings—which averages 400 gallons of biohazardous waste each day for each Ebola patient—must be sterilized or incinerated. But US regulations in many states prevent the burning of contaminated materials, as has been common practice in most hospitals dealing with the virus.
As Dr. Thomas Ksiazek, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told the LA Times this past October: “There are other ways to deal with the waste… . The problem is most hospitals don’t use it for most disposable items. They’re quire happy to bag them up and send them to a regular medical disposal company.”
On October 16, in testimony before Congress, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden explained that, “The Ebola virus itself is not particularly hardy. It’s killed by bleach, by autoclaving, [and] by a variety of chemicals. … The severity of the infection is higher, so you want to be certain when you’re getting rid of it”
Small double-door pass-through autoclaves stationed within a patient’s quarantined area are an ideal solution. These devices aren’t only effective in sterilizing all materials that have been contaminated, but also create a sterile pathway out of the quarantined area, so that there is no risk of sterilized loads becoming recontaminated prior to disposal. Priorclave’s recently released QCS 150 is a good example of what such an autoclave should offer:
- A secure sterile path for media and waste to pass in and out of a sealed facility
- High-level door interlock settings
- Configuration to accommodate a large load capacity relative to its size
- Versatility to accommodate loads of greatly varying size
- Optimized for intermittent use, as it’s unlikely an Ebola quarantine room will be constantly in use
- Uncompromising safety