September 20, 2022

How Waste Professionals Can Help Healthcare Organizations Respond to the Monkeypox Emergency

Since the syringe tides of the 1980s, communities have relied on regulated medical waste (RMW) companies to help create safer and healthier environments, especially during unprecedented times. When disaster strikes, the industry is uniquely poised to spring into action. For example, in 2005, RMW professionals quickly rallied to address the fallout of Hurricane Katrina. More recently, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry took immediate and innovative action to support communities nationwide with the surge of waste. Waste was not only generated in traditional medical waste settings like hospitals but also pop-up testing, treatment, and vaccination sites in places such as warehouses, ships, libraries, and parking lots.

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world faces yet another emerging crisis: the monkeypox virus outbreak. On July 23, the World Health Organization  (WHO) declared monkeypox a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” a title the WHO currently uses to describe two other diseases, COVID-19 and polio. By August 4, the U.S. Government declared monkeypox a national health emergency.

How is Monkeypox Transmitted?

The monkeypox virus spreads differently than COVID-19. While COVID-19 can spread through simply talking or sharing a room with an infected individual, monkeypox is spread primarily through close contact with an infected person or contact with contaminated objects such as bedsheets. This can pose a risk to the health and safety of anyone who cares for monkeypox patients, particularly healthcare workers. Therefore, the proper response to the monkeypox outbreak requires healthcare workers to practice proper management of contaminated items to help keep themselves safe as they treat infected patients.  

How to Manage Monkeypox Waste?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published monkeypox waste management guidance. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) also recently released updated guidance and issued an enforcement discretion memorandum regarding the management of monkeypox-related waste. The CDC and DOT acknowledge that even though multiple clades (strains) of monkeypox are known, the clade circulating in the United States is not a Category A infectious substance, which would require specialized management and disposal. The DOT memorandum clarifies that it is appropriate, and recommended, to manage waste generated from patients with monkeypox in the United States as UN3291 RMW, unless the patient has a known epidemiological risk, which is currently defined to mean the patient has recently traveled to specific areas (Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, or Gabon in the prior 21 days). The CDC and DOT are not currently recommending uniquely managing waste pending test results unless the patient has known epidemiological risk. If such a risk is identified, further testing is needed to determine the clade of monkeypox virus before shipping the waste, otherwise, the waste is assumed to be a Category A infectious substance and additional steps need to be taken to properly manage the waste. Regardless of the clade, healthcare workers must properly package the waste, ensuring that liners are securely tied and containers are properly closed.

Healthcare facilities can work with their RMW professionals to help understand the CDC and DOT guidance and the proper handling of this waste.

As many monkeypox infections will not require a visit to a healthcare facility, it is important to note that the U.S. federal government does not regulate any monkeypox waste generated in the home.

How Stericycle Can Help Healthcare Facilities with Monkeypox Waste?

Assisting with the safe management of monkeypox waste is just one example of how Stericycle can help meet the needs of healthcare providers. We have comprehensive waste management services to meet the specific needs of facilities and award-winning online training for staff to help ensure healthcare workers know how to properly segregate and package waste for disposal.  Learn more about our solutions and how we can serve as a partner to healthcare organizations. 

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