Health Beat: Disinfecting robots stop superbug infections

Health Beat: Disinfecting robots stop superbug infections

STANFORD, Calif. - Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing, but for many, just being inside one is a danger. 

About two-million Americans suffer from hospital-acquired infections every year – adding a whopping $30 billion to health care costs. Now, hospitals are using a new way to reduce the risk.

You can't see them, but they are everywhere – dangerous bacteria that could make you sick and even kill.

"I really felt like I was dying. I was very sick," said Ellen Blackwell, who had C. difficile, an infection that causes severe diarrhea, fevers, pain and cramping. "Also, it comes on extremely fast."

Superbugs, like the one Blackwell contracted are common in hospitals across the country, killing about 100,000 patients each year.

"These organisms are smart. They're always a step ahead of us," said Sasha Madison, director of the infection prevention program, Stanford Hospitals and Clinics.

Now, the Xenex robot aims to outsmart even the toughest strains of bacteria. First, hospital workers spend about 45 minutes cleaning and disinfecting.

"Following that, we bring this machine in to further disinfect the room," Madison said.

It can be used in patient rooms, the emergency room and even operating rooms. In one study, researchers found the robot reduced surface contamination in the OR by 81 percent and air contamination by 46 percent.

"We have a higher level of assurance that the rooms are truly the cleanest they can be for our patients," Madison said.

And that means a safer stay for patients.

About 100 hospitals across the country have the disinfecting robots. An average-sized hospital, with about 120 beds, would need two Xenex devices to clean all its rooms. Each one costs about $80,000 and can be bought or leased.

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