St. David’s buys super bug zapping robot to fight infections

Pathogen-killing robot
Pathogen-killing robot

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Centers for Disease Control report that 100,000 Americans will die this year from infections they pick up at the hospital, from so called “super bugs” and other bacteria. Those numbers remain steady despite increased efforts to clean and disinfect. Now, St. David’s South Austin Medical Center is the first in the area to try something new, a germ zapping robot. It was created by a San Antonio company called Xenex and it’s robot bathes a room in intense UVC broad spectrum light, killing every germ within minutes.

Rachael Sparks, technical director at Xenex, explains, “It’s an insurance policy on their room. We know that rooms can harbor pathogens, surfaces everywhere can. This lets a patient know their room is clean and safe.” On the market for just a few years, Xenex robots are now used by 300 hospitals across the country, and Sparks says those facilities are reporting a 50% to 75% reduction in patient infections.

The normal hand scrubbing at a hospital still leads to 1.7-million infections nationwide every year. Those numbers have been stable for years, according to Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer at St. David’s South, “It’s been pretty much stable for a number of years now. That’s why reducing those infections if an important part of our patient protocol.” Dr. Gros says his medical center will monitor patient infections in quarterly reports to see how the robot is performing.

As for patients who get those infections, thousands turn up at medical malpractice legal offices wanting to sue someone, but lawyers will tell you very few prove a winner in court. Jay Winkler has been a malpractice attorney for 34 years in Austin and he maintains part of the problem is a decades old Texas law that allows hospitals to investigate themselves and keep the findings secret, “First we have to prove negligence and the barrier to finding out what really happened is the peer review privilege in the law, so the proof that might be available for us is hidden behind a veil of secrecy.”

If your chances in court are slim, the Xenex robot may at least provide greater protection from infection. St. David’s purchased three of them at $100,000 each, but doctors point out that since each infected patient costs $15,000 to $25,000 to treat, the robot could pay for itself in no time. The troubling super bugs may linger in a hospital room for hours, weeks or even four to six months, depending on the bacteria. Xenex claims it’s robot will kill even the most stubborn pathogens, such as norovirus, influenza, Ebola, staph bacteria and MRSA.  Since the CDC says nearly two million Americans will get a hospital acquired infection this year alone, that means there are a lot of bugs out there to be zapped.

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