By Suzy Kridner
New Smyrna Beach - Ray is a busy robot at Bert Fish Medical Center, and so is his companion, Violet.
While the couple look like robots, they're actually devices that dispense innovative germ-zapping technology to help prevent patient infections at the hospital.
Bert Fish is the first hospital in Florida to purchase the Xenex devices that will keep patients even safer from infections, Vicki Hall, director of infection control at Bert Fish, said during a demonstration last week.
Two of the most prevalent infections in hospitals are Clostridium difficile endospores (C. diff) and MRSA, a type of staph bacterium.
C.diff is found in human and animal waste. It is a common cause of diarrhea that occurs in hospitals. A study presented by Mayo Clinic researchers earlier this year provides clear evidence that the number of people contracting the hard-to-control and treat bacterial infection Clostridium difficile (C. difficile or C. diff) is increasing.
MRSA is a type of Staphylococcus aureus ("staph") bacterium that is resistant to first-line antibiotics. Although MRSA can be treated with other types of antibiotics, its resistance to those antibiotics is increasing as well. Its invasive form kills about 18,000 people a year, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
The new Xenex machine dispenses a blue ultraviolet light that quickly destroys viruses, bacteria and bacterial spores, Ms. Hall said.
It has a kill time of 5 minutes or less on C.diff and 90 seconds or less on MRSA, said Rachael Sparks, technical director for Xenex, the Texas company that makes the devices.
Studies show that the Xenex room disinfection system is consistently 20 times more effective than standard chemical cleaning processes, according to company personnel who demonstrated the device recently at Bert Fish.
Dr. Reba Isaac, infectious disease specialist at Bert Fish, said the machines provide a bigger safety net in addition to regular room cleaning that is done first.
Removing more spores are "safer for patients and staff," she said.
Ray was chosen last week to demonstrate how the portable room disinfection device pulses blue ultraviolet light throughout patients' rooms and the emergency department.
"The new Xenex technology provides an additional step in our continuous efforts to advance patient safety," Ms. Hall said. "Bert Fish has a strong infection prevention program in place, but we are always looking for new ways to provide even safer care and better outcomes for our patients."
Linda Breum, director of nursing, said when patients are discharged, the rooms are cleaned first by the environmental services staff, then the disinfection devices are used in the patient rooms, and emergency room. No one can be in the room while the machine is cleaning, although there is little harm from the device.
Once the device is armed, personnel have 15 seconds to leave the room while the top rises up. Then the ultraviolet pulse starts, said Ms. Sparks, who demonstrated the machine.
Bert Fish is the first hospital in Florida to purchase the machines, said Andy Gerth, Xenex director of sales. The hospital bought one from Xenex at $75,000 and the second one was purchased by the Bert Fish Medical Center Foundation.
"We should recoup our costs within six months by reducing the number of patients who acquire infections while here," said Ms. Breum.
Hospital-acquired infections are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., more than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined, she said.
The machines are American-made and are certified green technology. The ultraviolet light comes from a bulb that's not harmful to the environment, Ms. Sparks said.
The devices are in more than two dozen U.S. hospitals, Mr. Gerth said. The first one was in use in the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which now has four of the devices.
A study there a year ago found that the device that pulses xenon ultraviolet light significantly reduces the number of bacteria -- even after the housekeeping staff does its most thorough cleaning possible.
Tom King, director of environmental services at Bert Fish, said "We didn't change our cleaning practices. We added a layer of protection."
He also said the emergency room is disinfected twice a day with the device.
Ms. Hall said C.diff is on the rise, especially in Central Florida according to information she received from the State Department of Health.
"We're trying to be proactive."