UV Light Robots Reduced Hospital-Acquired Infections by 25%, Study Finds

Inês Martins, PhD avatar

by Inês Martins, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
UV light robots

Robots can do all sorts of tasks to improve cancer treatment and now researchers have added room cleaning to the list. Indeed, Robots that use ultraviolet light (UV) to clean hospital rooms reduce the rates of hospital-acquired infections among blood cancer patients, one of the most vulnerable groups of patients.

That finding will be presented at ID Week 2016, Oct. 26-30 in New Orleans, by David Pegues, MD, a professor of Infectious Diseases in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and a healthcare epidemiologist at the Hospitals of University of Pennsylvania’s Infection Prevention and Control.

Hospitals across the U.S. have been trying to reduce the transmission of common bacterial infections by implementing a number of new cleaning tactics, including the use of UV lights, on in addition to the common scrubbing, mopping, spraying and wiping performed by environmental services professionals. But it still is not clear which of those methods are the most effective and practical.

Clostridium difficile is one of the most common bacterial infections in hospitalized cancer patients. It forms spores that are resistant to a number of disinfectants, persisting in the hospital environment for months. Every year, nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. contract C. difficile, and approximately 15,000 die directly from the infection.

Cancer patients, whose immune systems often are compromised from chemotherapy regimens or bone marrow transplants, are the most susceptible to such infections. Indeed, the researchers note that in 2013 the number of cancer patients that contracted C. difficile at Penn were five times the number of patients from all the other units in the hospital combined, despite the use of tageted intervention, such as daily use of bleach for terminal room cleaning. The vast majority of patients in the cancer unit had blood cancers, such as leukemia and multiple myeloma.

In this study, the researchers sought to examine whether UV-mediated room cleaning was a feasible option to reduce the rates of C. difficile infections among cancer inpatients. They compared the infection rates from 2013 to those of 2014, when the UV light robot was implemented.

Results showed the introduction of the UV light robots reduced the number of patients contracting C. difficile in that year by 25%. Importantly, contrary to other cleaning methods, like hydrogen peroxide vapor system which may take up to two hours, the UV light robots did not influence the room turnaround time, with the mean cleaning time remaining approximately the same (36 minutes).

In addition, the researchers also report that the use of the robot induced a 16% decrease in the infection rates in areas where the robot had not been used during the study time.

“There weren’t a lot of studies showing the efficacy of UV lights to clean hospital rooms,” Pegues, who co-authored a recent study reporting the lack of evidence for best methods for cleaning hospital rooms, said in a press release. “These results help fill that gap. This is a cost-saving measure that showed a sizeable reduction in infections for a high-risk group of patients—and set the stage for further implementation of the technology at our hospitals,” he said.