Hospitals' Battle Against Superbugs Goes Robotic


One in 20 hospitalized patients picks up an infection in the hospital, and a recent article by the Associated Press describes the emergence of new technologies to fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs: “They sweep. They swab. They sterilize. And still the germs persist.”1

Hospitals across the country are testing new approaches to stop the spread of superbugs, which are tied to an estimated 100,000 deaths per year, according to the CDC. New approaches include robotlike machines that emit ultraviolet light or hydrogen-peroxide vapors, germ-resistant copper bed rails and call buttons, antimicrobial linens and wall paint, and hydrogel post-surgical dressings infused with silver ions that have antimicrobial properties.

Research firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that the market for bug-killing products and technologies will grow to $80 million from $30 million in the next three years. And yet evidence of positive outcomes from them continues to be debated.

“In short, escalating antimicrobial-resistance issues have us facing the prospect of untreatable bacterial pathogens, particularly involving gram-negative organisms,” James Pile, MD, FACP, SFHM, a hospital medicine and infectious diseases physician at Cleveland Clinic, wrote in an email. “In fact, many of our hospitals already deal with a limited number of infections caused by bacteria we have no clearly effective antibiotics against; the issue is only going to get worse.”

As an example, the CDC recently issued a warning about carbapenum-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which has a 40% mortality rate and last year was reported in 4.6% of U.S. hospitals.2 CDC recommends that hospitals use more of the existing prevention measures against CRE, including active-case detection and segregation of patients and the staff who care for them. Dr. Pile says health facilities need to do a better job of preventing infections involving multi-drug-resistant pathogens, but in the meantime, “proven technologies such as proper hand hygiene and antimicrobial stewardship are more important than ever.”

Larry Beresford is a freelance writer in Oakland, Calif.


  1. Stobbe, M. Germ-zapping “robots”: Hospitals combat superbugs. Associated Press website. Available at: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/hospitals-see-surge-superbug-fighting-products. Accessed June 7, 2013.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vital Signs: Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6209a3.htm?s_cid=mm6209a3_w. Accessed June 7, 2013.
  3. Wise ME, Scott RD, Baggs JM, et al. National estimates of central line-associated bloodstream infections in critical care patients. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol, 2013;34(6):547-554.
  4. Hsu E, Lin D, Evans SJ, et al. Doing well by doing good: assessing the cost savings of an intervention to reduce central line-associated bloodstream infections in a Hawaii hospital. Am J Med Qual, 2013 May 7 [Epub ahead of print].
  5. Association of American Medical Colleges. Medical school enrollment on pace to reach 30 percent increase by 2017. Association of American Medical Colleges website. Available at: https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/newsreleases/ 335244/050213.html. Accessed June 7, 2013.

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