TEMPLE — Rodney Verner approaches his job at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Medical Center with a passion.

Verner works in the environmental management service at the VA hospital and one of his tasks is to clean hospital rooms in between patients being discharged and admitted.

No crevice goes untouched as he pulls apart the hospital bed and all its controls, wiping it down with a cleanser.

As diligent as Verner is, he and the cleaning agents he uses can’t eliminate all the drug-resistant organisms that remain in the hospital room. Enter the Pulsed-Xenon Ultraviolet Disinfection System, a machine that looks something like a robot when its lamp rises and the xenon UV lights begin to flash on and off, bathing the hospital room in a pink light.

The machine works on the DNA of bacteria and spores. The DNA absorbs the UV rays, which binds it, making the organism unable to replicate.

“Those organisms don’t have much of a shelf life so they die,” said Dr. Chetan Jinadatha, chief of infectious disease for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

In medical parlance, these types of systems are referred to as no-touch disinfection devices, Jinadatha said.

Research trial

A research trial of the disinfection system has been taking place for about a year and a half and has been slowly ramped up as employees become familiar with the device, Jinadatha said.

Four of the devices are in use in the Temple hospital and another will be used in the community living center, scheduled to open this year.

Manual cleaning, which takes 30 to 40 minutes, is still needed because the systems won’t work if there is dust or debris on the surfaces, he said. The disinfection system takes about 20 minutes per room, but only adds a minimal amount of time since the machine can be used in the bathroom while the hospital room is cleaned.

“We don’t want to hold up a patient from being admitted,” Jinadatha said.

A VA study showned that manual cleaning eliminates 70 percent of aerobic bacteria and 80 percent to 90 percent of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. When the no-touch device was added to the process, the percentage jumped to more than 99 percent.

In the lab, when the device was used for five minutes on a Petri dish containing a million bacteria, only 10 remained, he said.

“In a normal scenario you won’t have a million bacteria,” Jindatha said.

A study is going on at four VA medical centers, including Temple, with two of the centers using the UV disinfection system and the other two relying on manual cleaning alone. The other centers are in San Antonio; Portland, Ore.; and Birmingham, Ala.

“We’re trying to compare and officially see the differences,” he said. “We’re six months into the study and will probably have preliminary results after another six months.”

The study should show an infection drop in Temple and San Antonio, where the machines are in use, Jinadatha said.

Peace of mind

This device is just one piece of the puzzle in eliminating the spread of hospital-acquired infections, he said.

Some hospitals are only using no-touch disinfection devices on contact rooms, where the patients have MRSA or C. diff, Clostridium difficile, infections. The Temple VA is using it on every room where a patient has been discharged.

It’s not difficult to be trained on using the machine and it has multiple safety features built in, even a motion detector that will shut it down if movement is detected.

The machine costs around $80,000.

“If you have an MRSA infection, it costs about $25,000 to treat; a C. diff infection costs around $15,000,” Jinadatha said. “If you avoid four or five infections a year, the machine has paid for itself.”

The economics don’t take into consideration the peace of mind of a veteran and his or her family knowing the possibility of acquiring a hospital-acquired infection is lessened because of the new technology.

“That’s invaluable,” he said.

Jindatha’s research poster “Reductions in Environmental Contamination and Hospital Infection Rates After Implementing a Pulsed-Xenon Ultraviolet Disinfection System” was presented this year in London at the International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare.

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