US & World
A device used to disinfect hospital rooms may prove to be an important tool in combating the spread of Ebola in the United States.
Billed by the San Antonio-based company that developed it as a “germ-zapping robot,” the tool uses ultraviolet light emitted from xenon to fuse the DNA of viruses and bacteria, rendering them unable to reproduce or mutate.
The robot, manufactured by Xenex, is currently used in about 250 hospitals and health facilities across the United States, including the Dallas hospital where a patient is being treated for the first case of Ebola diagnosed in America.
The wheel-mounted robot is rolled into the room, where it emits a pulsating UV light throughout a two-to-three-meter radius of the machine for approximately five minutes, a Xenex spokesperson told Mashable.
The robot was first made commercially available in 2010, and now costs hospitals a base price of $104,000.
While UV disinfection has been around for decades, Xenex was able to speed up the process by replacing the mercury that was commonly used to create the UV rays with xenon, an inert non-toxic gas.
The light created by the xenon is about 25,000 times brighter than sunlight — and in about five to ten minutes, the robot can disinfect a space that would take a mercury-based device an hour, the company spokesperson claims.
“Our robot ensures that the room is safe for the next patient by destroying germs on high-touch surfaces, and in hard to clean nooks and crannies,” the spokesperson said.
Xenex said the Ebola virus is much easier to kill than other infectious diseases, some of which can survive in hospital rooms for months. One of the biggest threats to patients the company aims to combat are so-called superbugs — viruses and bacteria that have mutated in such a way that they are now immune to traditional disinfectant techniques.
“While cases of emerging rare diseases like Ebola and MERS may be high-profile, nearly 300 people in the U.S. die each day from a hospital-acquired infection like MRSA, C. diff or VRE infections,” a Xenex press release says.
Dr. Mark Stibich, one of the co-founders of Xenex, told KENS5 News in San Antonio that the company is currently working with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas to help out however they can in stemming the spread of Ebola.
“We have been communicating with them and supporting them in any way we can,” Stibich said.