Robots Fight Superbugs in Hospitals

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One of the biggest worries about American's obsession with antibacterial soaps is the possibility that viruses and bacteria will develop into "superbugs." At Johns Hopkins Hospital a new method is being tested to prevent the rise of superbugs by using robot-like devices that spray hydrogen peroxide.

These bots are about the size of a washing machine and weigh nearly 60 pounds each. Two bots are placed in a sealed room that has had its vents covered. One device sprays a light bleaching agent into the air to kill and prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria. A thin layer of the hydrogen peroxide agent, about 2 to 6 microns thick, coats all of the surfaces in the room, including equipment, tables and chairs. A second vaporizer breaks down the bleaching agent into its water and oxygen components, making it non-toxic to humans. The entire process takes about an hour and a half to complete.

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The vaporizers were first developed in Singapore in 2002 to combat the spread of SARS and were stocked in U.S. government agencies in case of an anthrax outbreak.

The team at Johns Hopkins found the rate of patients contaminated with drug-resistant diseases dropped by 64 percent. The vapor also proved effective against bacteria like Staphylococcus, which causes staph infection, and its super cousin MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is resistant to antibiotics and causes flesh-eating disease.

The study's senior investigator Trish Perl said in a press release that, "Our goal is to improve all hospital infection control practices, including cleaning and disinfection, as well as behavioral and environmental practices, to the point where preventing the spread of these multiple-drug-resistant organisms also minimizes the chances of patients becoming infected and improves their chances of recovery."

The positive results of the study has lead the hospital to purchasing two decontaminating units to be used in rooms that have a high-risk of drug-resistant bacteria. Further testing will be done to see if the bots are useful for decontaminating the outside packaging of unused but potentially exposed hospital equipment.

Credit: BioQuell