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Mercy's new UV disinfection system kills dangerous pathogens
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Mercy's new UV disinfection system kills dangerous pathogens

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SIOUX CITY | The baby blue glow emitted by tall, cylindrical lamps affixed to a wheeled base looks calming as the device sits in a surgical suite at Mercy Medical Center. But it's actually silently waging a war against pathogens that cause difficult-to-treat infections.

The PATHOGON UV Disinfection System uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to deactivate the DNA of bacteria and viruses, so they can't replicate and they die.

Joan Rothwell, manager of infection control for Mercy, said the hospital recently acquired the disinfection system to protect patients from hospital-acquired infections, such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are on the rise in the United States.

The CDC said there were nearly 722,000 hospital-acquired infections in U.S acute care hospitals in 2011. About 75,000 people died from these infections during their hospital stays. More than half of all hospital-acquired infections occur outside of intensive care units.

"It's part of our process of improvement to always look at ways to help decrease the chances of infection and decrease bacteria and viruses within a room," Rothwell said. "We're being proactive at all times. That was just another one of the new developments in science that helps us achieve that."

The PATHOGON UV Disinfection System doesn't eliminate the need to clean an operating room or patient room. Daryl Reicks, a clinical nurse educator at Mercy, said all trash bags need to be removed from the room along with IV fluids before the automated system is activated. Debris must be cleaned off all surfaces and bed cushions must be tipped up toward the light.

"Anything that the lights hit is what it's going to contact for killing," he said.

UV-C light is harmful to humans, so staff members need to leave the room during a disinfection cycle, which Reicks said can last up to 11 minutes, depending on the size of the room and type of pathogen being eradicated.

He said Clostridium difficile (C. diff), a spore-forming, toxin-producing bacteria that attacks the lining of the intestines, is the most difficult to kill. Nearly half a million cases of the difficult-to-treat and sometimes deadly infection occur in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

April Leigh, director of surgical services for Mercy, said staff use the PATHOGON UV Disinfection System in rooms that were inhabited by patients infected with C. diff. If a person accidentally enters the room during a cycle, she said the system's heat and motion sensors would protect them.

"If one fails it's got the other, so there's no way that a human could ever be exposed to it," she said.

After closing all doors and putting warning signs in place, staff activate the PATHOGON UV Disinfection System outside the room by using a tablet connected to the hospital's Wi-Fi network. After the cycle, the system automatically shuts itself off and staff can safely enter the room, which is filled with a burnt odor. Leigh said each room goes through two cycles.

"The manual cleaning does not go away. You still have to do that, but you always take a small chance that there could be residuals left over," she said. "We hit the high-touch areas between every patient; and at night environmental services cleans every surface possible. This is that additional touch to make sure that they really did effectively get all of the bacteria and the spores and the viruses."

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