A new system for disinfecting hospital rooms developed at Queen’s University is being used to combat an outbreak of deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at Belleville General Hospital.
The outbreak was declared on June 11 on Sills 4, the hospital’s 38-bed complex continuing care ward.
As part of its treatment response, the hospital is using a new system called AsepticSure, designed by Dr. Dick Zoutman and Dr. Michael Shannon at Queen’s University’s Innovation Park and developed by San-Francisco-based Medizone International.
The technology combines ozone and hydrogen peroxide into another compound that is extremely effective at killing bacteria. The procedure actually mimics what antibodies do in the human body when they attack an infection.
To disinfect a room, the compound is released as a gas, which fills the room, killing any bacteria present.
The complete process takes about an hour per room and disinfects to a level previously not achievable with current cleaning methods.
“No matter what you do, with current procedures, you can’t get it perfect,” said Shannon, a former deputy surgeon general for Canada and a former director general of Health Canada’s Laboratory for Disease Control.
“What we’ve been able to demonstrate over the last couple of weeks is that the situation has changed, we can get it down to at least undetectable levels of bacterial counts,” he said.
Laboratory tests show the system kills 99.9999% of bacteria. After doing its job, the gas breaks down, leaving no lasting by products.
“That’s when you know the that room is as safe as that surgical scalpel that a surgeon would use to cut you open,” said Zoutman, a Queen’s professor and chief of staff at Quinte Health Care.
The high level of disinfection is needed because even minute quantities of bacteria, such as MRSA and C. difficile, can pose lethal threats to patients. Amounts smaller than the head of a pin can be enough to cause an infection or outbreak.
“If we clean a surface, say a bed rail on a hospital bed, and it’s got some Staphylococcus, MRSA on it, and we left a few of the bacterial cells behind, they grow back in six hours,” Zoutman said,
“If you do not get the full elimination of some of these bacteria, within eight to 12 hours it’s grown right back again,” Shannon added.
The AsepticSure system takes about 15 minutes to kill bacteria, except C. difficile, and disinfect hard surfaces.
To kill C. difficile or disinfect carpets or drapes, the system needs about 30 minutes.
The new system adds to, but doesn’t replace, existing cleaning processes and comes in response to what has been called a “silent epidemic” in the health care system.
“For as long as there have been hospitals, there have been hospital-associated infections,” Zoutman said. “It bothers me intensely that we still have all these infection problems.”
In 2009, the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the cost of hospital-acquired infections in that country at between $28.4 billion and $33.8 billion.
One out of every 20 people admitted to hospital will contract a hospital-acquired infection, the CDC stated.
The cost has been so great that insurance companies in the US are no longer paying for treatment of hospital-acquired infections, said Ed Marshall, CEO of Medizone International.
“While 99% or 99.99% sounds like a lot of kill, and it is a tremendous reduction, the reality is if you don’t get all of it, the bacteria grows back,” Marshall said. “That’s why the problem rooms in hospitals remain problem rooms.”
The procedure could be adapted to sterilize other smaller spaces, such as hotel rooms, airline cabins, cruise ship rooms and long-term care facilities, and modified for larger facilities, such as food processing plants, Marshall said.
The system could also be used to decontaminate spaces following attacks using bacteriological weapons, such as anthrax, he added.
The results of the system have been promising enough that its developers are considering subjecting it to a full epidemiological study.
“This is the early days,” Marshall said. “This is the birth of something new.”