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types of Biohazards

Updated: Apr 12


Types of Biohazards Graphic

Biohazards, or biological hazards, are a significant risk in various environments, including healthcare, research, and everyday settings. These hazards come from organisms or organic materials that can seriously affect human health. This is why it's very important to identify, communicate, and understand the different types of biological hazards.


The different types of biohazards include airborne pathogens, human bodily fluids including vomit, sharps waste, microbiological waste, animal waste, organic material, mold and yeasts, and stinging insects.


Proper knowledge and handling of these hazards can better ensure safety and prevent disease transmission, protecting both individuals and communities.


Classification of Biohazards


Biohazard classification largely depends on their potential to cause harm. Hazardous biological agents are generally categorized into viruses, bacteria, bodily fluids, infectious diseases, and other potentially infectious materials.


Each biological hazard is assessed based on its ability to affect human health. This is why categorization is such an important step in managing biological risks effectively.


Classification helps organizations, such as the CDC and OSHA, establish safety guidelines and preventative measures specific to each hazard.


Common Types of Biohazards


Here's a breakdown of the most common biological hazards, as well as some examples of each:


Airborne pathogens


This category consists of viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can be transmitted through the air. Transmission often takes place via respiratory droplets or dust particles. These pathogens pose a big threat in both healthcare settings and public areas, with infections ranging from mild to severe.


Examples: Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Influenza virus, Aspergillus species


Human bodily fluids


In the context of biohazards, human body fluids include all bodily fluids that carry pathogens capable of causing infections. Handling and disposing of human bodily matter must be approached with the utmost care and strict safety protocols to prevent direct contact and contamination.


Example(s): Blood, saliva, semen, vaginal secretions


Human blood and blood products


Human blood and blood products are often essential for various medical treatments and are commonly found on sites where a violent crime or accidental death has occurred. They're significant sources of biological hazards and are capable of transmitting viruses like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Rigorous screening, handling, and disposal protocols are paramount.


Examples: Plasma, Platelets, Contaminated blood bags


Sharps waste


Sharps waste refers to objects and devices that can pierce the skin and are potentially contaminated with pathogens. In the case of sharps waste, proper disposal in designated sharps containers is key to preventing injuries.


Examples: Used needles, Scalpels, Broken laboratory glassware


Pathological waste


Tissues, organs, and body parts removed during surgical procedures or autopsy are considered pathological waste. This category requires special attention because of its potential to harbor infectious pathogens or prions, both of which can lead to serious illness.


Disposal of pathological waste often involves incineration or other methods approved by health regulatory bodies.


Examples: Removed organs, Tumors, Amputated limbs


Microbiological waste


This is waste from laboratory cultures and stocks of infectious agents, specimen cultures, as well as devices used for transfer and inoculation. Microbiological waste contains live microorganisms that can cause infections and diseases. Management often involves autoclaving prior to disposal to effectively neutralize agents.


Examples: Used culture dishes, Virus cultures, Discarded live vaccines


Animal waste


Animal waste also poses a notable biological hazard, especially when animals are being used in research around infected pathogens. Careful handling is required for animal waste to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases, which are illnesses that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Autoclaving and chemical disinfection are the go-to treatment methods for this biohazard.


Example(s): Contaminated bedding, Feces from infected animals, Urine samples


Organic material


Organic material can become a biological hazard when it harbors bacteria, fungi, or viruses. In places like composting facilities or laboratories dealing with plant pathogens, these materials need to be managed with caution. Decomposing organic matter can also attract pests which further increases the chances of disease transmission.


In this case, effective strategies include proper waste segregation, regular disposal, and decontamination.


Examples: Infected plant leaves, Contaminated natural fibers


Mold and yeasts


Mold and yeasts are found everywhere in the environment, but they tend to thrive in damp, warm conditions. Although they're usually harmless, certain species can be infectious. They often pose the greatest threat to people with compromised immune systems or allergies.


These biohazards can contaminate indoor environments, leading to breathing issues and other health problems.


Because respiratory transmission is common with these biological hazards, mitigation involves controlling humidity levels, ensuring proper ventilation, and cleaning visible mold.

Examples: Aspergillus, Candida, Penicillium


Stinging insects


Despite being living organisms, stinging insects can still be considered a biological hazard, especially in outdoor or semi-enclosed spaces. Their stings can cause allergic reactions that range from mild irritation to severe anaphylactic shock.


Managing this biohazard involves discouraging nesting, wearing protective gear, and having emergency medical plans in place for allergic reactions.


Examples: Bees, Wasps, Hornets


Handling and Disposing of Biohazards


Here are a few points to keep in mind when it comes to the handling and disposal of biological hazards:


  1. Wear personal protective equipment (PPE): Always use appropriate PPE, including gloves, gowns, masks, and eye protection to create a barrier against hazards.

  2. Safe work practices: Implement engineering controls like biological safety cabinets and practice safe techniques.

  3. Proper segregation: Ensure there's a clear differentiation between infectious waste and regular waste to avoid contamination. Using labeled containers is key in this regard.

  4. Decontamination: Regularly clean and disinfect work surfaces and equipment with appropriate disinfectants to kill pathogens.

  5. Autoclaving: Sanitizing infectious waste using autoclaving before disposal to neutralize any biological agents.

  6. Authorized disposal: Dispose of biohazardous waste via authorized waste management services. This entails abiding by safety standards set by organizations like OSHA. Proper disposal is also important for avoiding legal issues.


Biohazard Safety Levels Explained

Biohazard safety levels are key frameworks established to gauge the risks biological hazards pose. These levels range from 1 to 4, based on the severity and transmissibility of the pathogens involved:


  • Level 1: Poses a minimal threat to humans and the environment, standard disinfection and PPE are enough.

  • Level 2: These are moderate hazards. Requires lab coats, gloves, and face protection.

  • Level 3: Involves serious diseases via inhalation. Mandates access control, biosafety cabinets, and special clothing.

  • Level 4: Deals with high-risk pathogens causing fatal diseases. Requires full-body hazmat suits, controlled environments, and extensive biohazard decontamination.

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