Safe disposal of used face masks is essential to prevent spread of Covid-19 virus

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The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases across India is now 75, as per the Health Ministry website. India also recorded its first death due to corona virus after a 76-year-old man passed away in Karnataka. He had tested positive for Covid-19.

Persons with lower respiratory tract infections are the source of infection of Covid-19. The virus spreads mainly through large droplets that are produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

Hence, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended wearing a medical mask by a perosn with cough and fever as one of the prevention measures to limit spread of certain respiratory diseases, including 2019- nCoV, in affected areas along with i.e. in combination with other standard droplet precautions including regular handwashing and covering the nose and mouth while sneezing.

It is important to wear a mask correctly to protect oneself from the infection; knowing how to dispose of face masks properly is just as important or perhaps even more important as there is a risk of the infection spreading.

The WHO advises that

Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
When removing the mask, remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask).
Remove the mask from the face gently so as to not disturb liquid and solid contaminants on the mask. Put it in a plastic bag (use the type of plastic bag permitted) such as a grocery shopping bag or a zip lock bag and tie or seal it tightly. https://www.mountainside-medical.com/pages/how-to-properly-dispose-of-a-face-mask Discard the bag straight away in a closed bin. Wash hands immediately with soap and water or clean hands with 60% alcohol-based hand rub for at least 20 seconds. Only then, put on a new mask.

Masks (and other personal protective equipment) that are used in hospitals or quarantine or isolation facilities constitute medical waste and should be treated accordingly. They should be decontaminated and incinerated at high temperatures in dedicated facilities.

Masks used at home by persons in self-isolation who are otherwise well, should not be thrown on the roads or discarded randomly anywhere. If they are thrown on the roads, they may be picked up and either re-used or sold to be recycled. Used masks should also not be mixed with other household waste.

The mask with cough secretions and sputum may be potentially infectious. They then become a new source of infection and put garbage collectors and others at risk of infection.

These should instead be put in separate containers and transported to incineration plants.

Dedicated mask collection centers and incineration plants should be identified or set up. Appropriate steps are needed to prevent their recycling.

Local bodies or RWAs can be involved in this drive. Special trash cans can be set up in local communities. People who collect garbage or clean roads should be provided face masks and gloves as a preventive measure.

The steps taken by the government to create public awareness about protecting oneself from corona virus are laudable.

Hence, there is also an urgent need to alert the public about discarded masks as potential source of corona virus and educate them about appropriate disposal of used face masks. This is crucial not only for their own safety but also for the safety of others.

Currently In India all corona confirmed and suspect cases including close contacts are under direct follow up with the government so they are facilitating is mask disposal also.

Dr KK Aggarwal

President CMAAO, HCFI and Past National President IMA