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Sat 9 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Shedding light on the battle against hospital infections rates

A leading microbiologist has unveiled a new tool in the fight against nosocomial infections, branding it "essential for efficient infection control measures".

A leading microbiologist has unveiled a new tool in the fight against nosocomial infections, branding it "essential for efficient infection control measures".

Speaking at the launch of the Medixair, a portable ultraviolet air sterilisation unit, Dr Peter Bo Nielsen, a consultant microbiologist from the UK's Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, said the device could be a front-line defence in a outbreak.

Nielsen was present at the Arab Health exhibition to reveal the results of a three-month non-randomised sequential clinical trial on the unit. The study, led by Nielsen, examined the impact of the device on MRSA contamination and cross infection in a clinical setting.

The trial, based in the 900-bed Northwick Park Hospital, compared two single-bed side rooms each with one patient. One room was fitted with two UV units. Both the patient and room environment were screened for MRSA three times a week.

In the UV room, Nielsen said, screens revealed MRSA to be present in 39% of swabs, compared to 100% of those taken from the control room. Patient screens taken from the UV room consistently showed no trace of MRSA, versus a 47% colonisation rate for the control room.

The trial - as yet unpublished - conclusively identified the significance of airborne MRSA cross-contamination, Nielsen said, and showed the device could be significant in helping facilities contain infections.

"The study showed you can protect the patient from MRSA, even if there is MRSA in the environment," he said. "And if you can do that, you can protect against other bacteria such as ESBL, C.difficile, and VRE.

In the event of an outbreak, the unit could also be used to protect staff and provide them with makeshift isolation rooms, he speculated.

"You could call a room an isolation room, as soon as you interrupt the transmission to the patient," he said. "That means, for example, in the event of a H5N1 outbreak, or even multiresistant tuberculosis, there may be some protection of staff.

"An isolation room in the UK costs about £30,000. Because this approach is much cheaper, you can begin isolating patients on suspicion instead, rather than diagnosis. It could prevent outbreaks, and even pandemics. All of these things start with just a few cases.

The findings have been submitted to the journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

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