Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection?

I gave a webinar for 3M yesterday entitled ‘Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection (NTD)?’ It was based broadly on a recent Journal of Hospital Infection review article, and you can access the slides here.

The webinar covered:

  • The key data supporting the need for improved hospital disinfection, particularly ‘terminal disinfection’ when patients are discharged.
  • The strengths and limitations of conventional disinfection methods, particularly in terms of reliance on the operator to ensure adequate formulation, distribution and contact time of the active agent.
  • The potential benefits of introducing automation into the room disinfection process.
  • Coverage of the advantages and disadvantages of the various “no-touch” automated room disinfection systems currently available.
  • Scenarios in which NTD systems may be warranted.

To summarize the rationale for using an NTD system: enhanced conventional methods are able to eliminate pathogens from surfaces, but the inherent reliance on a human operator to ensure adequate formulation, distribution and contact time of the active agent introduces variability into the process. NTD systems remove or reduce reliance on the operator for delivering hospital disinfection. However, they do not obviate the need for cleaning, so they are designed to augment rather than replace conventional methods.

So when to consider an NTD system? The flow chart below (Figure 1) shows a decision tree for which cleaning and disinfection approach to take. Given their practical limitations, NTD systems are best suited to disinfection of a room after a patient colonized or infected with a pathogen has been discharged to protect the incoming patient from acquiring the pathogen left behind by the prior room occupant. A recent study of a hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV) NTD system shows that patients admitted to rooms disinfected using HPV were 64% less likely to acquire any multidrug-resistant organism (MDRO) than patients admitted to rooms disinfected using standard methods when the prior room occupant had an MDRO.Flow chartFigure 1. A disinfection decision diagram for when to consider an NTD system. a) Key pathogens associated with contamination of the environment include C. difficile, VRE, MRSA, A. baumannii, P. aeruginosa and norovirus. b) All NTD systems are applied after a cleaning step to ensure that surfaces are free from visible contamination, which is unacceptable to subsequent patients and will reduce the efficacy of the NTD disinfection. c) There is limited equivocal evidence that enhanced cleaning / disinfection in a low-risk general ward setting can reduce the spread of pathogens.

Ok, so you’ve decided that you want to use an NTD system. Which one to choose? Every conference I go too seems to have more and more NTD systems on show, all with bold and often conflicting claims. There are essentially four classes of NTD system that are commonly used in hospitals:

  • Hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV)
  • Aerosolized hydrogen peroxide (aHP)
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC)
  • Pulsed-xenon UV (PX-UV)

I asked the audience which, if any, NTD system had been used in their hospital (Figure 2). 90% of the predominantly US based audience had not used an NTD system at all, which was a surprise. In the hospitals that had used an NTD system, there was a fairly even split between HPV and the UV systems.Which systemFigure 2. Has your hospital used an NTD system and if so, which one?

Each of these systems have advantages and disadvantages, which I have tried to summarize in the following table by ranking the systems in the key categories. The hydrogen peroxide systems tend to have higher efficacy and better distribution than the UV systems. But the UV systems are faster and easier to use. Thus, there is a trade-off between efficacy / distribution and cycle time / ease of use when deciding which NTD system would be more appropriate.Comparision table Table: Comparing the key features of the four commonly used NTD systems.

In order to illustrate the challenges in choosing a) whether to use and NTD system and b) which to use, I presented the audience with three scenarios. In scenario 1, below, I was expecting most people to select ‘conventional methods’ or one of the UV systems, which have both been shown to reduce the burden of contamination without reliably eliminating pathogens. The sheer number of patients with MRSA colonization transferred or discharged from general medical wards means that the additional time for HPV may not be warranted.Scenario 1Scenario 1. What do you do when a patient who was colonized with MRSA has been discharged from a room on a general medical ward?

Scenario 2 is an occasion where you want to be sure that residual contamination has been dealt with so that the incoming susceptible ICU patient will not acquire the virtually untreatable carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii. Therefore, HPV, which is associated with the elimination of pathogens from surfaces, is a rational choice.   Scenario 2Scenario 2: What do you do when a patient who had an infection with carbapenem-resistant A. baumannii has been discharged from an ICU room?

Scenario 3 is more tricky. While the likelihood of C. difficile spore contamination argues for the higher efficacy of the hydrogen peroxide systems, the number of transfers or discharges of patients with C. difficile on a surgical unit may be high, which argues for the lesser efficacy but faster cycles from the UV systems. The majority of the audience selected HPV in this scenario, considering that the combined risk of the pathogen and specialty required the elimination of C. difficile spores from the room prior to the admission of the next patient.    Scenario 3Scenario 3: What would you do when a patient who had C. difficile infection has been discharged from a room on a surgical unit?

To summarize, the use of an NTD system to augment terminal disinfection is warranted in some circumstances. The choice of NTD system will depend on a number of factors, including efficacy, distribution, ease of use, cycle time and cost. The features of the various NTD systems make them best suited to different applications, dictated by the clinical setting and the environmental-pathogenic characteristic of the target pathogen. So, is it time to turn to NTD systems? 52% of the audience voted ‘yes’ at the start of the webinar; 74% voted ‘yes’ at the end!Initial finalFigure 3: Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection? The audience were asked this question at the start and the end of the webinar, indicating a swing towards the affirmative!

Article citation: Otter JA, Yezli S, Perl TM, Barbut F, French GL. Is there a role for “no-touch” automated room disinfection systems in infection prevention and control? J Hosp Infect 2013;83:1-13.


2 thoughts on “Is it time to turn to ‘no-touch’ automated room disinfection?

  1. Jon
    This assumes that the patient is located in a single room to enable a NTD technique to be used for terminal cleaning. This may be prevalent in USA and parts of Europe, but it is not the case in many countries where multi-bed bays or wards are common even in ICUs. If the participants in your poll were located in Asian countries I expect that the results would have been very different.


    • Don thanks for your comment. You’re right in that US healthcare is uniquely suited to NTD room disinfection due to the high proportion of single rooms. The ECDC have just published some useful data on the proportion of single rooms across Europe that can been seen here, which ranges from 30% in parts of Western and Northern Europe.

      Although the proportion of single rooms is considerably lower in the UK than in the USA, I suspect that the proportion of hospitals that have used an NTD system would be closer to 50% (vs. 10% in the survey during the webinar). This is mainly due to the fact that NTD systems have been around longer in the UK. I expect the usage in the USA to increase rapidly in the USA over the next 5 years.


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