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In the Line of Duty: Safety Tips for Medical Lab Scientists Amidst COVID-19 Testing

The new coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, has spread rapidly across national borders and become a pandemic of emergency status. There has been a robust response by the international community to ensure that the virulent virus is contained to mitigate further spread. As such, various governments have earnestly increased their testing, treatment and isolation capacity and deployed health workers to tend to those infected.

While most health workers have the tendency to contract the virus due to close relations with infected persons, the laboratory scientists who conduct diagnostic tests on suspected COVID-19 cases may be at a higher risk of being infected due to close contact with the specimen collected from these individuals. Considering this, it is important that lab scientists follow safe laboratory practices to avoid being infected. 

Here are diagnostics guidelines which are particularly useful this period:

  • Personal Protective Equipment: As advised by the World Health Organisation(WHO), personal protective equipment is very crucial when carrying out  COVID-19 diagnostics test to prevent personal clothing from getting contaminated by biological agents. Also,  appropriate disposable gloves must be worn for all procedures that may involve planned or inadvertent contact with blood and other body fluids. Ensure to thoroughly wash hands with warm running water and soap after every testing or anytime contamination is suspected. It’s important to keep gloved hands away from the face and avoid touching personal items like phones, jewellery, etc.
  • Appropriate Waste Management: Waste management is key, seeing as COVID-19 is highly infectious. Therefore, proper disposal of waste materials must be ensured and any surface that may have come in contact with the specimen must be thoroughly disinfected to control infectious risks. Research is yet to prove a cure for COVID-19 but its genetic similarity with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV suggests that the virus can be killed using disinfectants such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach), 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, quaternary ammonium compounds and phenolic compounds if used according to manufacturer’s recommendations. 
  • Proper Storage: It is not enough to just collect a specimen for testing but proper storage of such specimen must be ensured. As such, it must be stored in containers with adequate strength, integrity and volume to contain the specimen. Also, confirm that the container is leak-proof when the cap or stopper is correctly applied. The use of plastic storage containers is encouraged to avoid mix up and for easy identification. It is also crucial to correctly label, mark and record each of the containers.

If you are a Medical Laboratory Scientist or Quality Assurance Officer reading this, your efforts in the face of the pandemic are appreciated. We applaud your bravery and tenacity, and we encourage you to continue to protect yourself as you do your job. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn for more information and tips on how to stay safe amidst the pandemic. Click here to subscribe to our email newsletters so that you can get updates on our upcoming ISN Quality Assurance Summit (iQAS) 2020. 

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