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Hospitals gain new weapons against deadly bacteria

As the invisible bugs in hospitals get scarier and more prevalent, hospitals are finding new ways to clean.

Doylestown Hospital on Tuesday unveiled its newest high-tech weapon, a machine that zaps everything in a room with ultraviolet light 25,000 times brighter than the sun's. It can penetrate the defenses of Clostridium difficile, wily bacteria that produce spores that can live for weeks and are harder to kill than typical bacteria.

C. difficile causes diarrhea and kills 14,000 Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been on the rise in recent years, and health-care facilities, filled with weak, vulnerable patients, are among its favorite targets.

Hospitals are also using fluorescent markers and other methods to test housekeepers' work. An old standby - bleach - is in a resurgence because it can kill C. difficile.

On the high end, several ultraviolet-light systems are competing with machines that fog a room with hydrogen peroxide. Johns Hopkins Hospital and Pennsylvania Hospital use the latter approach.

The fancy machines, which are used after normal disinfection, add time to what hospitals call "terminal cleaning," the work they do when a patient leaves a room. This puts them at odds with rising pressure to cut costs and maximize efficiency.

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