Bioterrorism & Emerging Infectious Diseases

Planning & Preparedness


Decontamination of Patients and Environment

The need for decontamination depends on the suspected exposure and in most cases will not be necessary. The goal of decontamination after a potential exposure to a bioterrorism agent is to reduce the extent of external contamination of the patient and contain the contamination to prevent further spread. Decontamination should only be considered in instances of gross contamination.

Decisions regarding the need for decontamination should be made in consultation with local health departments and Healthcare Epidemiology. Decontamination of exposed individuals prior to receiving them at UTMB may be necessary to ensure the safety of patients and staff while providing care.

Depending on the agent, the likelihood for re-aerosolization, or a risk associated with cutaneous exposure, clothing of exposed persons may need to be removed. Patients may be decontaminated prior to entry into the Emergency Department or may be instructed (or assisted if necessary) to immediately shower with soap and water.

Potentially harmful practices, such as bathing patients with bleach solutions, are unnecessary and should be avoided.

Clean water, saline solution, or commercial ophthalmic solutions are recommended for rinsing eyes. If indicated, after removal at the decontamination site, patient clothing should be handled only by personnel wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and placed in an impervious bag to prevent further environmental contamination. The FBI may collect clothing and other potential evidence for submission to FBI or Department of Defense laboratories to assist in exposure investigations.

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