New tool rids ambulances of superbugs

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By Robert Avsec

There is an unseen, but very real, threat to the health of EMS first responders and the patient that they serve. The threat comes from the worldwide spread of infectious microbes, such as MRSA, C. difficle and TB.

Keeping the patient compartment of an ambulance free from these superbugs and a multitude of other infectious pathogens is an escalating challenge for fire and EMS departments. The current methodology for cleaning and decontaminating surfaces involves manually cleaning those surfaces with EPA-approved disinfecting solutions.

“Unfortunately, manual cleaning of all high-touch surfaces is impractical, time consuming, and recent studies indicate that it misses over 50 percent of all surface-surviving pathogens,” according to Chris Chilvers, president of MRSA-UV.

MRSA-UV, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., manufacturers a new portable decontamination device, the Turbo-UV that uses Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) for decontamination of hard surfaces such as those found in an ambulance.

The use of UVGI for disinfection has been an accepted practice since the mid-20th century. Until now, UVGI has been used primarily in medical sanitation and sterile work facilities. In recent years UVGI has found renewed application in air and surface sanitization.

The Turbo-UV is a compact unit (22 x 8 x 8 inches) that when placed in the closed patient compartment of an ambulance can rapidly sanitize the compartment’s interior in as little as 15 minutes. The compact nature of the Turbo-UV also makes it useful for decontaminating fire station dormitories, fire equipment and turnout gear that have potentially been exposed to infectious microbes.

The use of UVGI in the fire station environment for sanitizing and decontamination has several attractive features. UVGI light is clean and green (no potentially harmful chemicals that require special use and protective equipment). There are no dangerous odors or residues from harsh cleaning agents to affect staff or patients and offers decontaminated spaces can immediately be reoccupied (less downtime for ambulances).

Earlier this year, the West Palm Beach (Fla.) Fire Rescue Department became the first fire and EMS agency to begin using the Turbo-UV for the decontamination the interior surfaces of its ambulances. Walker said that decision followed a six-week internal study by the department that used microbial test kits to evaluate such surfaces before and after application of UVGI using the Turbo-UV. The results led to the fire agency investing in the technology.

“Unfortunately, the current budget constraints that many departments are operating under are preventing them from purchasing the technology,” said Merritt Walker, the company’s operations manager. “They can see the value in protecting their employees and patients from exposure to infectious microbes, but such a purchase has to compete with a large number of other needs in their budgeting processes.”

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