UV light robot could thwart spread of hospital superbugs

Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine (Bryan, TX) are studying the effectiveness of a germ-zapping robot that uses pulsed ultraviolet (UV) light to clean hospital rooms, which could prevent the spread of superbugs.

Related: UV disinfection robot TRU-D slays hospital superbugs

Keeping hospital rooms clean is important to prevent the spread of infections from one patient to another. Surfaces in hospital rooms such as tray tables, bedrails, call buttons, and grab bars can be reservoirs for bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can be difficult to treat and, in some cases, be fatal.

"A typical 100-bed hospital sees about 10-20 hospital-acquired infections a year," says Chetan Jinadatha, MD, MPH, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (Temple, TX), who is leading the work. "Our goal is to get to zero infections."

Jinadatha is studying the effectiveness of a pulsed xenon UV light system that was developed in Texas. He has been among the first to study the system since it was introduced in 2011. The device has a large, saucer-shaped head on top of a column that rises up to reveal a bulb filled with xenon gas. When the system is switched on, high-voltage electricity passes through the bulb and releases a spectrum of UV light that binds to the DNA of organisms and kills them.

Surfaces in hospital rooms such as tray tables, bedrails, call buttons, and grab bars can be reservoirs for bacteria. A new UV light method for cleaning hospital rooms could help stop the spread of dangerous bacteria and, in turn, save lives. (Credit: Texas A&M Health Science Center)

Last year, Jinadatha published a study that compared the effectiveness of manual disinfection alone to manual disinfection plus the use of UV light. This study found that manual cleaning plus UV light killed more than 90 percent of the bacteria, compared to 70 percent with manual cleaning alone. Of particular note was the fact that manual disinfection plus UV light killed 99 percent of the bacteria that cause MRSA.

Jinadatha's latest study looked at the effectiveness of UV light disinfection by itself. This study found that in just 12 minutes, the UV light system cut the amount bacteria in the room by about 70 percent—roughly the same level of effectiveness as manual disinfection.

Jinadatha stresses that he would never recommend that a hospital use the UV light system by itself, but he believes it does have value as a "safety net" to kill bacteria that traditional cleaning may miss. Currently, the system is being used in 40 VA hospitals across the country and about 200 private hospitals. He predicts it will eventually become standard equipment at all hospitals.

Full details of the most recent work appear in the American Journal of Infection Control; for more information, please visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajic.2014.12.012.

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