Can R2D2 Beat H1N1?

Constance Heidel (3 PM Micro) was fascinated by the threat of antimicrobial resistance, and our ongoing efforts in to try and combat this potential health care disaster. Here is Constance’s take on a way that hospitals are currently trying to eliminate these microorganisms from clinical settings:


As a student going into the nursing profession, I am particularly interested in the ever-growing number of nosocomial infections and what the health care industry is doing to try and reverse the incidence of such diseases. I’m also interested in science-fiction. When I saw this article, which combines remedy and robots, I had to jump on the opportunity to share this with everybody.

Come To The Dark SideNew Picture (1)

Hospitals have long been regarded as the shining light of healthcare to those who are injured or infirmed. Within these facilities, everything from the delivery of lives to the saving of lives is carried out on a daily basis. Yet today, more and more patients are entering hospitals and leaving sicker than they were when they entered. It important to identify why this is happening to patients and determine what the health care industry is doing to help prevent these avoidable illnesses. Let’s explore hospitals, “the dark side” of health care.

Rooms are cleaned, linens are sterilized, hands are washed, gloves are donned and masks are worn. Yet despite all of this, germs aren’t going anywhere. These resistant “superbugs” are responsible for making approximately 1 in every 20 patients in U.S. hospitals sick with nosocomial infections. These infections are coming at a high cost to not only the general public’s health, but also our wallets. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these infections lead to an estimated 100,000 deaths every year and rack up a bill in upwards of $30 billion annually. As a result, insurers are striking back against hospitals. In fact, Medicare is proposing to stop paying for complications related to nosocomial infections. Clearly, the situation is grim.


Revenge of the C-Diff

New Picture (1)

Table 2, from Inweregbu et al, DOI 10.1093/bjaceaccp/mki006

So how did we get to this point? Was it: A) The Millennium Falcon, B) Podracer, C) Sandcrawler or D) The Sith? If you chose D) The Sith (better known in healthcare as “C-diff”) then you chose correctly!

According to Jennie Mayfield, the president-elect of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, the intestinal bug Clostridium difficile (C-diff) was the catalyst for stricter precautions with regards to infection control. The outbreaks from C-diff started about a decade ago, and today are responsible for around 14,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.

C-diff is just one example of an etiologic agent of nosocomial infections. Gram-positive bacteria are the most common cause of these infections, with Staphylococcus aureus being the most prevalent pathogen. The table shows the most common pathogens associated with nosocomial infections in ICU patients from January 1989-June 1998.


A New Hope

If C-diff and other resistant strains of bacteria represent the Sith within the dark side, then who or what will defend the good our nation? Well the Jedi order, of course!

“You can’t win, Darth. Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” – Obi wan Kenobi to Darth Vader in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

“You can’t win, Darth. Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” – Obi wan Kenobi to Darth Vader in Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope

Germ-resistant copper bed rails, call buttons and IV poles are being made. Linens, curtains and paint are being made with antimicrobial substances. Machines resembling robots from Star Wars, which emit ultraviolet light and/or hydrogen peroxide vapors, are coming in to use good forces to rid hospitals of these evil superbugs.

Xenex Healthcare Services makes a portable machine that zaps these superbugs dead by using ultraviolet light. Xenex has sold (at $125,000 a piece) or leased devices to more than 100 hospitals throughout the U.S.  One hospital that is using this technology is Westchester Medical Center. During the last two years, a study showed that C-diff infection rates fell by half and C-diff deaths fell from 14 to 2; a dramatic decrease compared to the two years before the machines.

It seems as though these machines are able to able to destroy the menaces that hand sanitizers and bleach cannot, but some experts say there still isn’t enough evidence to prove their worth. Dr. Clifford McDonald of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pointed out that “It only takes a minute for a nurse or visitor with dirty hands to walk into a room, touch a vulnerable patient with germy hands, and undo the benefits of a recent space-age cleaning.”

Yes, environments will get dirty again, but in this day and age of bacteria that is becoming harder and harder to eradicate, we need every ally possible to help protect the health of our loved ones and ourselves. There is no one foolproof way to keep us safe from nosocomial infections, so a variety of methods must be employed. I, for one, would be happy to have R2D2 on my side. May the force be with you!New Picture (3)


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on May 10, 2013, in Guest Post, Wash your hands! and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. In my opinion, the Xenex machine looks more like Crow T Robot than R2D2.

  2. hmmm….

    I think you’re right!

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