C. diff is on the run.
They’re not R2D2, but the trio of robots that have joined the germ-fighting staff at Edward Hospital in Naperville look sort of like the famed electronic good guy of the “Star Wars” films. Their task is real-life, and it’s deadly serious: killing germs that can kill people.
Purchased before the announcements earlier this month of the nation’s first two cases of Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in Indiana and Florida, the Xenex disinfecting robots are effective against the virus, as well as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE), Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and other superbugs that can heighten infection risk in hospitals and other public settings.
At the Naperville hospital, the electronic three-member team — named Snap, Crackle and Pop by a vote of hospital staff — goes to work after everyone else has gone home.
The device operates by pulsing xenon UV rays into bacterially infested spaces, such as patient rooms, which are treated after the patients go home, as well as support areas and operating rooms. The inert gas is shot out twice per second at high intensity, using a xenon ultraviolet flash lamp to produce ultraviolet C. The short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation penetrates the cell walls of bacteria, viruses, mold, fungus, spores and other potentially harmful microorganisms.
“Their DNA is instantly fused so that they are unable to reproduce or mutate, effectively killing them on surfaces and in the air without contact or chemicals,” literature from the robots’ manufacturer explains.
Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control at Edward, said the hospital’s housekeeping staff has undergone thorough training in the robots’ use.
“This is very promising, because we know that there are organisms in the environment that persist, despite all the standard cleaning methods,” Pinsky said, noting that patients admitted with D. diff and other conditions sometimes bring microscopic bugs into the hospital. “This allows for elimination of these environmental organisms.”
The hospital conducted a test of the machines’ disinfectant capabilities, Pinsky said, collecting cultures on frequently touched surfaces after the routine scouring and again after they had been treated with the xenon rays. Far fewer microorganisms were found after the robotic treatment.
“There’s limitations in the standard cleaning,” Pinsky said.
Empirical assessment hasn’t been done yet, he said, but anecdotal evidence suggests the robots have an effect in reducing infection rates.