Superbug Warfare: Hospital Acquired Infections Reduced by Ultraviolet Cleaning

Hospitals have bared the brunt of the battle against antibiotic resistant superbugs. According to the CDC, about 1 in 25 hospital patients will be infected with hospital acquired infections–an estimated 722,000 people in 2011. About 75,000 hospital patients have died of hospital acquired infections. As a result, hospitals are modernizing their cleaning procedures. In fact, the latest weapon in the battle involves ultraviolet cleaning (UVD) to reduce superbugs.

Hospital acquired infections including vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile (CD), and other multidrug-resistant organisms (MDRO), were decreased through the use of UVD cleaning regimens, according to a study published in American Journal of Infection Control.

Multidrug-resistant organisms are found mainly in hospitals and long-term care facilities. They infect and kill the most vulnerable members of society including young and elderly patients. “In our study, overall decreases in MDRO plus C. difficile were led by a decrease in VRE, which is our most common hospital-acquired MDRO,” the authors state. “Although there were many other simultaneous infection control interventions occurring at our hospital that could have contributed to the reduction in VRE acquisition, the rates experienced during UVD are the lowest incidence rates of VRE at our institution for the past 10 years and were sustained for 22 months.”

UVD uses ultraviolet light to clean hospital rooms and hospital bathrooms. The study was 52 months in all. It was divided into two phases–during the first phase, healthcare workers cleaned using bleach and during the second phase they cleaned using a UVD cleaning regimen (6 minutes of ultraviolet light in the bathroom and 12 minutes in patient rooms). In both cases, everyone was asked to wear a gown and gloves as a precaution. The study found that UVD cleaning was associated with a 20 percent reduction in MDRO hospital acquired infections.

Getting to the root of antibiotic resistance is the key to stopping it in its tracks–including limiting the over-prescribing of antibiotics and cutting them out of our food system. But UVD light may serve to fight the battle in the meantime.

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 Image: NIAID