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Joint Base Langley-Eustis hospital acquires 'germ-zapping' robot

The Air Force acquired its second machine that can help stop spread deadly viruses — including Ebola.

The medical unit at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, is now one of more than 200 hospitals that have an ultraviolet, germ-zapping robot capable of disinfecting a room — including under the bed and other hard-to-reach places — in five minutes. The hospital at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, was first military facility to buy the machine.

The 633rd Medical Group partnered with Xenex Healthcare Services, the San Antonio, Texas-based medical equipment manufacturer, to become the second Air Force hospital to use the xenon-light technology, which uses more powerful and non-mercury UV light.

"Langley is the first to purchase [the robot] for disaster response and Ebola virus preparedness," said Melinda Hart, spokeswoman for Xenex, in an email to Air Force Times. "Military decision-makers want to make their facilities safe by eliminating the deadly microorganisms that make people sick, and that's what our robots do," Hart said.

Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, will be the third Defense Department facility to receive the robot, Hart said.

The robot, known as "Saul" at Langley, uses pulses of high-intensity, high-energy ultraviolet rays 25,000 times brighter than fluorescent lights to split open bacterial cell walls and kill dangerous pathogens commonly found in hospitals, according to a release.

"Saul will provide an extra measure of safety for both our patients and our intensive care unit staff," said 633rd MDG Surgeon General chief of nursing services Col. Marlene Kerchenski in the release.

Although each room is cleaned by hospital staff wearing proper protection equipment and using cleaning chemicals, Saul specifically targets harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi that still linger in microscopic areas.

Disinfecting an entire room in five minutes, the robot can destroy Ebola-like viruses on any surface in two minutes, according to Dr. Mark Stibich, Xenex's founder and chief scientific officer.

A key ingredient is the xenon light, which doesn't include mercury vapor like "every other disinfection system ... which is slow and inefficient," Hart said.

The robot is capable of killing a single strand of ribonucleic acid, like that of a virus similar to Ebola, two meters out in any direction at an efficiency rate of 99.9 percent, said Geri Genant, the Xenex Healthcare Services implementation manager.

"Xenex has tested its full spectrum disinfection system on 22 microorganisms, studying nearly 2,000 samples in several independent labs all over the world," Genant said. "Hospitals that have used this have been able to bring infection rates down in many cases 60 percent," she said.

Two Xenex robots are now in use at the Dallas, Texas, hospital, where Thomas Eric Duncan, the first U.S. Ebola patient traveling from Liberia, died Oct. 8. They were used in the cleanup after Duncan died, according to reports.

Airmen from the 633rd returned Oct. 20 from a month-long deployment after supporting humanitarian relief operations in Liberia.

The 34 airmen did not treat patients, but built expeditionary medical support systems, or EMEDS, modular hospitals used to train U.S. Public Health Service members on handling its unique equipment.

"Our goal is to provide robots to the 17 hospitals (Ebola treatment units) scheduled to be built in West Africa," Hart said.

Xenex is also looking to distribute the robot to ambulances, aircraft, ambulance buses and ships, she said.

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