Hesperian Health Guides
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No matter what kind of disinfection you use (chemical or heat), disinfected waste should be safely stored in bags or disposed of right after disinfection. Keep waste away from patients, and make sure that infected waste does not get mixed with disinfected waste.
Many health problems from health care waste are caused by sharps. Needles, blades, lancets, and other sharp objects can cause wounds and infections, so they need to be handled with great care. Outside the health center, sharps may put the people who collect and recycle waste in danger.
To reduce sharps waste, use injections only when they are needed. (For information about when to inject and when not to, see Where There Is No Doctor, pages 65 to 74.)
Safe disposal of needles and syringes
After injections, needles should be removed from syringes and put into a sharps container right away. Putting caps back on needles is dangerous and best avoided. Unless you are using reusable syringes, always dispose of needles where they are used. There are many ways to remove needles from syringes. Any method should:
- use only one hand, to prevent needle sticks.
- dispose of needles in a hard container that they cannot poke through.
- be easy and comfortable for health workers to use.
How to make a keyhole box to dispose of sharps
A keyhole box is a metal box with a long slot in the top that is wide on one end and gets narrower on the other. You can buy them or have a metal worker make them. They can also be made from coffee cans or other rigid metal containers. What is important is that they let you remove needles from syringes without touching the needles.
- When you have finished using a disposable syringe, put the needle into the slot and slide it down to the narrowest point.
- Now pull up on the syringe and the needle will fall off into the box. Put the syringe in a waste container.
- When the sharps container is 3⁄4 full, seal it with tape and put the box into a sharps pit or a sharps drum.
Kinds of syringes
Reusable syringes can be used again and again. Reusable syringes make less waste and can save money, but they must be washed very carefully and disinfected after every use. Never use a syringe without washing and disinfecting it first. HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases are spread easily if needles and syringes are not carefully disinfected between uses.
Disposable syringes are made to be thrown out with the needle attached after one use. Some disposable syringes can be taken apart, boiled or steamed, and reused several times. This is not recommended, because if the syringe or needle is not completely disinfected it can spread disease.
For safe disposal methods, see Burying Health Care Waste.
How to wash and disinfect a syringe and needle for reuse
Using a needle more than once can spread HIV or other diseases unless it is properly cleaned and disinfected, and so is best avoided.
But many communities do not have enough syringes and needles to afford to dispose of them after a single use. For this reason, we include information on how to wash and disinfect a syringe and needle for reuse.
- Put on a pair of heavy gloves to protect your hands from germs.
- Draw 5% bleach solution up through the needle into the syringe barrel.
- Squirt out the bleach solution.
- Repeat several times. Rinse everything several times with clean water.
- Take the syringe apart and boil or steam the syringe and needle.