Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


What happens to Ebola medical waste?

22 October 2014, 09:00

While the Ebola virus itself is not particularly hardy and can easily be killed by household disinfectant, bleach, heat, sunlight, alcohol and  autoclaving - the technical term for what is sometimes called steam sterilisation, it becomes an enormous tasks to kill it on everything it had touched. 

Caring for Ebola patients produces a mountain of potentially contaminated material. The disease causes substantial sweating, bleeding and vomiting and the virus can, via these bodily fluids, easily be transferred to medical equipment as well as protective gear worn by medical personnel. 

The Los Angeles Times and others have reported that one Ebola patient treated in a US hospital would generate eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste per day.

As Ebola can be spread through direct contact with surfaces or equipment, including bed linen, which have been contaminated with infected body fluids, these must all be sterilised or destroyed after use.

Surprisingly, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ebola waste can be effectively disposed of using standard procedures for medical waste: the virus is not thought to be particularly hardy and can be eliminated relatively easily with heat, alcohol-based products and bleach.

However, because the virus is so highly virulent, and because its persistence in the environment outside the human body has not been extensively studied, many authorities – such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States – consider that only high-temperature destruction of waste, preferably by incineration, is acceptable.

But not all hospitals, even in first world contexts, are equipped with appropriate incineration facilities, which may require transporting waste to the few that do.

Strict PPE and training needed to handle Ebola waste

The same personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by medical personnel caring for Ebola patients is required for people handling waste materials and cleaning hospital rooms: at a minimum, disposable gloves, a fluid-resistant gown, eye protection (preferably goggles) to prevent splashes, a face mask and closed impermeable shoes – to protect against viral contaminants as well as contact with the disinfectants used.

Waste disposal personnel also go through rigorous training to prepare them for their task.

Sharp, hard objects like needles and tubing that has been in contact with body fluids should be placed inside puncture-resistant waste containers.

Solid, non-sharp, infectious waste must be placed in leak-proof waste bags and covered bins. Bins should never be carried against the body, for example on the shoulder.

Ebola waste should be incinerated – but can also be buried

Destroying medical waste in an industry-standard incinerator is the preferred end-point according to the CDC. Waste may also be rendered harmless in an autoclave  - a chamber that subjects the waste to steam at high pressure and temperature.

However, in settings where safe complete incineration may not be available, the WHO recommends burying waste.

Solid waste should be placed in a pit 2 metres deep and filled to a depth of 1-1.5 m. After each wasteload, the waste is covered with a layer of soil 10-15 cm deep. The area designated for the final treatment and disposal of waste should have controlled access to prevent entry by animals, untrained personnel or children.

The WHO states that waste such as faeces, urine and vomit, and liquid waste from washing, can be disposed of in the sewerage system or even a pit latrine, with no further treatment necessary.

All surfaces of the hospital room housing an Ebola patient must be carefully cleaned, at least once a day.

The Ebola virus, while being highly infectious, is not believed to be particularly persistent in the environment outside the body. Thus it is easily destroyed by many standard disinfectants (including bleach). However, given Ebola’s virulence, the CDC recommends cleaning with disinfectants usually used to kill “tougher” viruses like polio and flu.

Surprisingly, the WHO states that bed linen used by Ebola patients can be reused, as long as it can be machine washed with suitable detergents. Otherwise, incineration is recommended.

- Health24

For the latest on national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page.


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...