Robot could be key to fighting tough bacteria

UCHealth acquires germ-fighting robots
Feb. 17, 2016

It looks like something out of a Star Wars’ movie or Flaming Lips’ song, but this robot zaps dead the hardiest of bacteria.

Watch out C.diff, the Xenex Germ-Zapping Robots have arrived.

Like something out of a science-fiction movie, the Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot emits pulsing UV light that kills micro-organisms by inactivating their DNA, rendering them incapable of growing, reproducing, or infecting. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

Medical Center of the Rockies has acquired three Xenex robots in an effort to kill hardy bacteria such as C. diff.

Clostridium difficile — commonly known as C. diff — is one of the most dangerous culprits in hospitals, sickening more than a half million Americans each year. That’s because it’s one of the toughest bacteria to kill. The Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot, when placed in a room after the room has had “terminal” cleaning, uses a pulsed xenon ultraviolet light to kill hard-to-get bacteria. The Xenex robot is capable of destroying C.diff spores in less than five minutes. Several hospitals have published studies in peer-reviewed literature demonstrating a greater than 50 percent reduction in this deadly pathogen when Xenex robots are used for room disinfection.

“C. diff is transmitted through feces and spreads orally,” said Emily Thorp, infection preventionist at MCR. “It’s super hardy in the environment because it forms a spore that can get past a lot of disinfectants. It also can hang out for long periods on high touch surfaces (up to 5 months), which is not the case for most bacteria.”

“National data shows that Colorado is not as good as it should be at preventing C. diff within its health care systems,” said Paul Poduska, infection preventionist for PVH.

University of Colorado Hospital updated its procedures for C. diff isolation in July 2015, according to Chris Olson, infection preventionist for UCH. Beyond policy changes, it introduced Perisept in its oncology and burn units. Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs is also using Perisept.

MCR environmental services: Josh Murrow, Sharon Jennings, and Kathy Parsons
MCR environmental services, from left, Josh Murrow, Sharon Jennings, and Kathy Parsons, train on the Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot in early February. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

Perisept is a non-bleach disinfectant that takes only about two minutes to kill spores, compared with five for bleach. Although Olson said there was not a change in C. diff infection rates as a result of Perisept, the disinfectant is now used throughout the hospital for terminal room cleans because it lessens staff’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

In early February, MCR’s environmental services employees were trained on using the Xenex robots. Xenex robots show great opportunity for being most effective because of independent peer reviews and scientific evidence presented, according to Thorp.

Xenex’s pulsed xenon UV disinfection system is the only UV disinfection system that uses pulsed xenon, not mercury bulbs (mercury is toxic), to create UV light. 

The Xenex robots come with free service, training and off-site device monitoring and data tracking. They cost about $100,000 each, but they are the only UV disinfection technology shown, in multiple peer-reviewed studies, to help hospitals reduce infection rates, Preventing just a couple of infections pays for the cost of the device – and most hospitals using Xenex robots report a return on investment in just four to six months, according to a Xenex spokesperson.

“Decreasing infection rates shouldn’t be dependent upon technology alone, but through a team approach,” said Ryan Rohman, MCR’s chief nursing officer. “Whether using any UV-device or sterilizing chemically, proper hand washing, wearing proper personal protective equipment and following hospital protocols will all help lower the spread of bacteria and other infections. Implementing the UV-device is just another addition to infection prevention that will increase quality, patient care throughout UCHealth’s northern region.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.