10 Most Common Types of Infectious Waste
Identification of different waste stream types generated by any healthcare facility is essential for proper and compliant healthcare waste management. A number of waste streams are readily identifiable, such as sharps, pathological and anatomical waste, blood or body fluid waste, and chemotherapy waste, just to name a few.
If you’re a health provider (animal or human) it pays to know the 10 most common types of infectious waste. Why? Because if you don’t, you run the risk of non-compliance when it comes to medical waste disposal, which in turn results in often massive fines and penalties.
One of the biggest no-no’s when it comes to medical waste is to mix infectious with non-infectious medical waste. The only way to avoid that is to know the difference. Daniels Health knows that not all medical waste is created equal. Do you?
What exactly is “infectious waste?” Most commonly, infectious waste is defined as an organism or waste product - most commonly found in healthcare or health related industries – that is capable of producing infection or an infectious disease in humans.
In addition to federal guidelines regarding handling and treatment of infectious or biohazard waste, every state in the country also has its own recommendations for handling such medical waste. Infectious waste disposal processes must be followed to protect employees, the general public, and the environment.
10 most common types of infectious waste
Among the most 10 common types of infectious waste that healthcare workers or individuals can be exposed to are such that include but is not limited to:
- Blood, which also contains blood products such as those found in containers or even perhaps as a saturated solid waste. Blood products include plasma, serum, as well as additional blood components.
- Pathological waste is another type of infectious waste. Pathological waste defines tissues or body parts removed from a human or animal either accidentally, during a surgical procedure, or an autopsy, and that is intended for disposal.
- Sharps include needles, scalpels, blades, or any “sharp” item that is used to inoculate, provide drugs, or to draw blood that are used on or derived from an animal or human. A number of possible medical waste generators dealing with sharps infectious waste include mortuaries, blood banks, hospitals, laboratories, as well as research facilities. Sharps can also include pipettes, lancets, or other discarded glass or hard, plastic vials that contain an infectious agent. Be aware that other examples of an object (sharps) capable of penetrating or cutting the skin can also include razor blades, suture needles, trocars, butterflies, broken capillary tubes, culture slides and dishes, as well as empty ampoules.
- Laboratory waste can include cultures or stocks or agents that are created or used by laboratories in the development of treatments or analysis of disease processes that can be infectious to humans upon exposure. Such items can include wastes that come from the production of biological agents that may be potentially hazardous to humans. It also includes discarded live or attenuated vaccines that may prove infectious to humans.
- Regulated human body fluids. Information on this topic may require some digging for various facilities depending on state. Regulated human body fluids can include but is not limited to amniotic fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, and so forth. It’s also defined as anything that is stored in a container or a substance that may drip from solid waste items such as bedding or bandages that are soaked with body fluids.
- Animal waste from research. Scientific and medical research involving animals is a common source of infectious waste. As with humans, any blood, body part, or carcass of an animal that has been exposed to hazardous or infectious agents may also potentially cause harm to humans.
States around the country may have their own guidelines for healthcare waste management of infectious or biohazardous waste. For example, Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency publishes guidelines for infectious waste management guidance for generators. They, like others, will specifically state how infectious waste is regulated and what wastes are considered infectious in that state. When it comes to regulated human body fluids, Minnesota states that a regulated body fluid is something that is “not normally released from the body”.
- Teeth. In some states, teeth are classified as an infectious waste. The CDC states that attracted teeth are subject to guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Blood-borne Pathogen Standard, which deems extracted teeth to possibly contain infectious materials. Therefore, they should be disposed of in adequate and appropriate medical waste containers (with the exception of teeth containing amalgam, which are not to be incinerated). Refer to local and state regulations for disposal of teeth containing amalgam.
- Solid wastes may also be deemed a source of infectious or biohazardous waste and include items such as IV equipment tubing, suction canisters, surgical gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as wound dressings, which may contain blood or bodily fluids that are “pourable, drinkable, squeezable, or flakable”, according to OSHA.
- Chemotherapy waste also has the potential to be infectious, depending on the status of the patient and in the delivery of chemotherapy drug processes that have the potential to transfer blood or body fluids from one person to another. Common items that may be deemed infection may include tubing, sheets, pads, vials, gloves, containers, IV bags, and so forth.
- Any material contaminated with a communicable disease – Healthcare workers employed in a variety of healthcare scenarios including hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and even veterinary facilities and tattoo parlors should always use protection to avoid exposure to communicable diseases or agents. In some nursing homes, influenza, urinary tract infections, and scabies may spread from one resident to another as well as to caregivers if proper identification, treatment, and use of personal protective equipment is not utilized.
Proper measures any healthcare facility should be taken to ensure adequate healthcare waste segregation as well as hazardous waste disposal methods. Proper waste stream identification and waste segregation is essential in protecting employees, the public, and the environment from potentially infectious waste.
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