FORT MYERS, Fla. - A local hospital is testing new tools to help fight superbug infections that are known to plague hospitals.
Superbug infections are either untreatable because they are drug-resistant, or are difficult to treat with today's medicine. They can linger on surfaces inside hospital rooms and are hard to kill even with regular, good housekeeping. But at Lee Memorial Heath System, they're testing a number of tools that show promising results when it comes to ridding rooms of germs.
Like her rescue horse Phoenix Zephyrus, you could say LaBelle resident Chrissy Fischer is also a phoenix who rose from the ashes.
"They honestly didn't think I was going to make it," said Chrissy.
Two decades ago, Chrissy was visiting her daughter in a Pennsylvania hospital, when she contracted an infection called C. difficile.
"I had no clue how sick I really was... within a matter of two hours, I went from walking and shopping with my children to almost being carried to my car," she recalled.
Chrissy, a healthy 30-year-old at the time, said she also contracted salmonella poisoning.
"My system was compromised when I contracted salmonella poisoning from food," she explained.
According to a doctor at the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, most people get C. difficile after being on antibiotics while in a hospital or in an out-patient health care setting.
"I'd like to see more testing being done on things like door handles of patients' rooms and door handles of restrooms," Chrissy told us.
More testing is exactly what System Director of Epidemiology at Lee Memorial Health System Steve Streed and his team are doing.
"Several years ago we had a cluster of infections we observed," he said.
After a 2006-2007 infection outbreak, Lee Memorial started looking at ways to eliminate superbugs. One cleaning system they tested was a hydrogen peroxide vapor machine like the one currently being used at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
In a recent study by Johns Hopkins, researchers say that using the hydrogen peroxide vapor machine in between patients can cut down the number of superbug infections by more than 60 percent.
"In simple terms, it almost sterilized the room. and all the equipment that's in it," explained Steve.
While getting a nearly sterilized room seems to be a good outcome, Steve said it wasn't practical to use because, "that whole process involves taking a lot of time."
Hydrogen peroxide is an irritant, so each room that is cleaned has to be sealed off first and that includes sealing off the room's air-handling system. Then the hydrogen peroxide has to be taken out of the air through a filtering system. The total time from beginning to end is two hours.
"It was cumbersome," said Steve.
While Lee Memorial isn't testing the hydrogen peroxide machines anymore, they are using a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide to clean the privacy curtains between patients. Since the spray goes directly on the curtains, they don't need to close off the rooms. But that kind of cleaning only addresses one surface. So, the hospital is now testing a full-room cleaning tool, UV lights, and Steve says the results are promising.
"We're getting almost the same amount of room disinfection or decontamination with the light treatment, much shorter duration, than we were with hydrogen peroxide," he told us.
Instead of two hours, the UV light cleans a room in about 15 minutes.
"What the ultra violent light does is it causes the organism's DNA to be disrupted to a point where it kills the organisms," Steve said.
And because the light attacks the organism's DNA Steve tells us, "they'll work for a long period of time. DNA resistance to UV has not really been heard of."
And that's good news for future patients. But for patients who already had to battle to survive a superbug or hard-to-treat illness, like Chrissy, the the terrifying experience never goes away.
"I carry with me two bottles of germ-x and I don't want to seem phobic about it, but at the same time, I don't ever want that to happen again," she said.
Steve Streed at Lee Memorial tells us they still have some more testing to do on the UV lights, but they hope to have them in place at all their campuses by next summer or fall.