Feature | February 19, 2008 | Dave Fornell

Web Exclusive: New Superbug Weapons Added to the Arsenal

The VaproSure whole room sterilizer uses a hydrogen peroxide gas to kill all bacteria, viruses and spores in a hospital room.

February 2008 - The traditional hospital cleaning methods of wiping down surfaces and mopping floors are now being outclassed by new systems for whole-room sterilization, which can kill all bacteria, viruses and spores, even under tables, on ceilings and in small crevasses anywhere in a room. In 2007, two new systems came onto the market; STERIS Corp. released the VaproSure system and Biomist Inc. introduced the NAV-CO2 system.

"There is a problem with hospital acquired infections in the U.S. and it needs to be addressed,” said James Bowden, M.D., MBA, FAAFP, chief medical officer for Holston Valley Medical Center, Kingsport, TN, part of the Wellmont Health System. “There are about 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections each year, and it costs hospitals about $30 billion a year to treat these infections... We have a problem.”

He said his hospital, as well as its whole healthcare system, was looking for new ways to cut the number of these infections and turned to technology for the answer. STERIS Corp. began selling its VaproSure whole room sterilizer to hospitals last summer and the first orders went to Wellmont Health System, Lake Hospital System, and the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Dr. Bowden said the VaproSure system has been used in an implementation phase since January to determine how to best use it. The hospital is conducting a thorough clinical study of the device’s effectiveness by swabbing several locations in a room for cultures. The swabs are taken before, after and at several intervals after the sterilization. The hospital so far has been very happy with the results.

“It removes all spores, bacteria and viruses,” Dr. Bowden said. “We are finding there is nothing there – nothing grows.”

He said VaproSure was used in industry prior to healthcare, so it is a new, but proven technology. The hospital plans to eventually sterilize all its rooms using the device.

Dr. Bowden said rooms are first prepared by sealing all windows, doors and electrical outlets so particles cannot enter or leave during the process. The VaproSure machine is wheeled in and the computer programmed for the duration of the sterilization, which begins after staff has left the room and sealed the door. It uses Vaprox Sterilant to create a dry hydrogen peroxide gas, which fills the room for about eight hours, then the machine turns off and the peroxide breaks down into harmless oxygen and water vapor.

Dr. Bowden said the hospital is also attempting to find the best way to use the device and what process works best. While it is effective at killing all germs in a room, he said the time the process makes the room unavailable for about 12 hours. The hospital also wants to use the device in its ICUs, but that will take a lot of coordination and preplanning to completely clear out an active ICU for 12 or more hours.

“We want to create the safest hospital environment possible,” Dr. Bowden said. “We are working out the protocols now. It’s not a complex process, but it is time consuming.”

Holston Valley Medical Center plans to publish its findings on the effectiveness of VaproSure based on its ongoing study. The hospital also wants to find what it considers the optimum use of the device - whether it should be used for all rooms, or just for high-risk rooms where infections are likely, such as those of known MRSA carriers.

“What we hope to pass on to other hospitals is if this truly makes a difference in reducing hospital acquired infections,” Dr. Bowden said, but so far feels, “This is the way to.”

Biomist’s NAV-CO2 system uses liquid carbon dioxide as a propellant to spray a fine alcohol mist, temporarily displacing oxygen by an envelope of rapidly expanding CO2 gas. The CO2 renders the vapor nonflammable. The maker says the system has been used in Asia for the past 10 years, but is only about two-years old in the U.S. Biomist first targeted food-processing plants, but began selling the system to Veterans Administration hospitals about a year ago.

Formulating a Battle Plan

Wellmont Health System, along with the Novant and Adventist systems, formed the Safest Hospital Alliance. The group is experimenting with technology like VaproSure to develop thorough, best practice infection control strategies they can implemented in all their hospitals.

“We are working toward making error-free templates for infection control,” Dr. Bowden said.

Whatever strategy a hospital adopts, Dr. Bowden said four components are needed in order for it to work. These include: 1. utilizing technology, 2. making sure appropriate processes are in place, 3. ensuring staff is compliant with those processes, and 4. making sure all staff from dieticians and case workers though surgeons and radiology technicians are aware of and engaged concerning the policies.

“You can’t just throw technology out there – the whole show has to take place,” Dr. Bowden said.

He also suggests hand washing is the No. 1 defense clinicians can adopt to stop the spread of infection. Dr. Bowden said it is important clinicians wash their hands before and after seeing every patient, even if it means washing hand 40-50 times a day.

Holston Valley Medical Center also just started using Cepheid’s GeneXpert two-hour test for MRSA to quickly identify carriers. To start, Dr. Bowden said only patients considered high-risk are tested, including transfers from rehabilitation centers, other hospitals, nursing homes and patients identified as former carriers by their medical records. He said most patients in these groups are placed in isolation until it is confirmed they do not carry MRSA.

“Isolation is a good thing to help prevent the spread of infection, but the patients don’t like it,” Dr. Bowden said

He said the test quickly reduces the amount of time most patients are isolated from 48 hours down to two.

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