Published: November 28, 2018 | Updated: November 28, 2018

Bug-zapping robot from out of this world

Northwest Specialty Hospital in Post Falls recently began using the Xenex LightStrike germ-zapping robot to drive its already-low infection prevention rates even lower. (JUDD WILSON/Business Journal)

Northwest Specialty Hospital in Post Falls recently began using the Xenex LightStrike germ-zapping robot to drive its already-low infection prevention rates even lower. (JUDD WILSON/Business Journal)

Infection prevention is a major concern at hospitals worldwide. The goal is to help patients get better, not expose them to bugs that make them feel worse.

That’s why staff at Northwest Specialty Hospital in Post Falls recently added another weapon to their arsenal for fighting diseases. In a real-world twist to a science fiction-type story, staff are killing germs with a robot that uses an extraterrestrial weapon.


With an infection rate of less than 1 percent though, it’s not as if the hospital has much room for improvement. Hand washing is of course a priority for everyone at the hospital. But in addition to that, Chief Nursing Officer Denise Fowler explained that the hospital has long been using several methods to combat germs. Each patient that comes in for a procedure is given swabs to decolonize their nasal passages of germs, every 12 hours. Also cleanses, showers, and pre-op wipes are used to rid each patient of as many germs as possible. Each patient is “cleansed four times before they have an incision done,” she said.

“Our No. 1 goal is to keep our patients safe, and to provide the safest care for them,” Fowler said.

Infection prevention specialist Leah Davis said the hospital’s environmental services team does a great job of cleaning. However, the detergents that hospitals use for cleaning require up to 15 minutes to kill all the possible germs it may come into contact with. Surfaces have to be kept thoroughly wet during that time, Davis said, which is difficult. Also, there are many surfaces in a hospital room that don’t have flat surfaces. There are plenty of spots where bugs can hide.

So when director of marketing Darron Rock saw that Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan had used new technology to reduce their overall infection rates, Northwest Specialty staff were invited to a demo on the future in infection prevention.

The Xenex LightStrike robot pulses UV-C light at microorganisms. Over the course of a few minutes, the UV-C light fuses the deadly microorganisms’ DNA to prevent them from reproducing or mutating. The UV-C light also explodes the cell walls of germs such as E. coli, according to Xenex.

Thanks in part to overuse of antibacterials and antibiotics in years past, modern society now faces strains of microorganisms that are harder to kill, such as C. diff and MRSA. However, the Xenex LightStrike robot can kill C. diff, MRSA, ebola, and anthrax in five minutes, said Davis and Fowler. There’s no way those germs will evolve or outsmart the UVC light, they said.

According to peer-reviewed studies, the robot has ushered in sharp declines in infection rates at numerous hospitals, they said.

UV light has been used for years to kill germs, but this technology uses pulsed xenon instead of mercury bulbs. Its UV-C light is so intense that the hospital puts up signs prohibiting people from entering the room when it is in use. A motion sensor connected to the robot will automatically shut down the light if someone is nearby, they said.

Davis said the hospital uses the robot in every operating room, procedure room, and in the anesthesia area. The robot is also used to disinfect common areas like bathrooms and the lobby.

If a patient had c. diff or MRSA, staff will also use the robot in the rooms where that patient went, Davis said.

Fowler said, “This is in addition to what environmental services already does. This comes in after their deep clean.” She also said, “We’re hyper-vigilant about these things since this is our specialty.”

The local hospital staff said that theirs is the only Xenex LightStrike robot currently in use in the state of Idaho, as well as the rest of the Inland Northwest.

“This is one more tool to keep our patients safe,” Fowler said.