Sterilization Tech Helps Fight Ebola

A Tracy, Calif.-based company’s portable sterilizers are a hit with hospitals and governments dealing with and preparing for Ebola outbreaks.

by / November 5, 2014

As doctors and health officials focus on keeping Ebola patients alive and the recovery process, the aftermath of treatment is quickly gaining attention nationwide – namely, what to do with the infectious waste that’s generated. While disinfecting material is an obvious first step, the virus is highly transmissible, making handling contaminated items dangerous for hospital workers.

But a small California company’s sterilization technology is helping clean up the mess and limit human contact to prevent the spread of Ebola through waste products.

San-I-Pak World Health Systems in Tracy, Calif., manufactures machines that use a process called steam sterilization to destroy Ebola and other infectious agents. The steam sterilization method – which exposes each item to direct steam contact at the required temperature and pressure for a specific time – is widely used, and is the most dependable option to eradicate microorganisms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The Ebola virus is very unique since exposure to the patient waste is far more contagious than exposure to the patient that produced the waste,” said Arthur McCoy, senior vice president of San-I-Pak. “We witnessed the consequences in Dallas a few weeks ago when an onsite sterilization program was not in place.”

What sets the company’s technology apart from others are the automated features. McCoy told Government Technology that while San-I-Pak’s technology is generally a fixed part of a hospital’s infrastructure, it’s in high demand because contact with untreated waste is minimized through the hands-free system.

McCoy added that the technology isn’t generic – the company custom-engineers systems for specific applications, such as Ebola and other contagions.

“Our team has been feverishly traveling across the country to extract hospital information so that our engineers can design a complete solution,” McCoy said, adding that they’ve had inquiries to provide Ebola sanitation technology to West Africa to help sanitization efforts there.

In addition to hospitals, U.S. government agencies and West African authorities, McCoy told KCRA.com that Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office inquired about a portable Ebola sanitization system that it can deploy where needed.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.