New research from Penn Medicine infection control specialists found that ultraviolet (UV) robots helped reduce the rates of transmission of the common bacterial infection known as Clostridium difficile. The robots flash UV lights across a hospital room to lock onto DNA of organisms and kill them.

C. diff forms spores that are resistant to many disinfectants and can persist in the hospital environment for months. Approximately 500,000 people contract C. diff while in the hospital every year in the U.S., and nearly 15,000 die directly from the infection. Cancer patients, whose immune systems may be compromised from stem cell transplants and/or chemotherapy, are more susceptible to infections than other inpatients.

The Penn Medicine team found that using a ultraviolet germicidal irradiation robot after a room-cleaning by Environmental Services (EVS) not only reduced the number of infections in cancer patients compared to the year prior with no robot, but did so without adversely impacting room turn-around time. During the study period, the researchers also reported that infections increased by 16 percent on units without the robot.

During 2014, the researchers used the ultraviolet robot for 21.1 percent of all patient discharges (542 out of 2,569 total patient discharges) on three study units (about 10 deployments for a week).