ROANOKE, Va. – The flu virus and other germs have been rampant all winter, and local hospitals are doing everything they can to keep patients as healthy as possible.
That is especially important for some of the tiniest patients: babies in local hospitals' neonatal intensive care units.
"NICU babies do not have a very strong immune system when they're born, especially if they're born prematurely," said Kim Ramsey, neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
That's why the hospital recently added five UV light boxes, one for each of its NICU pods, to help better protect babies in the NICU.
"It emits UV-C light, which kills bacteria," Ramsey said.
Many of the visitors to the NICU, including parents, bring cellphones and other electronic devices that are covered in germs.
"I think everyone knows that cellphones are very dirty," Ramsey said. "A lot of people have a difficult way of cleaning cell phones."
Ramsey said the NICU talked about requiring parents and visitors to place their phones in baggies, but decided that would be difficult to implement. Ramsey said the UV light boxes disinfect items in about 45 seconds and are easy to use.
"Anything that will fit in there, it can be cleaned," Ramsey said.
Ramsey said visitors are encouraged to wash their hands while their items are being disinfected.
"They would wash their hands for as long as the light is on and working," Ramsey said. "Then when it's done, they could take their phone out and go to the bedside and visit with their baby."
Ramsey said they've gotten positive feedback about the boxes from visitors, and people have asked about all of the different items they can put into the box for disinfection.
This is the first time UV light boxes are being used in the NICU, but similar technology is already in use in other parts of the hospital because of its ability to kill very nasty germs.
"If it kills C. diff, it'll kill anything else, so it's the gold standard for disinfection," Ramsey said.
The bacteria Clostridium difficile can cause serious gastrointestinal problems.
The hospital used community donations to pay for the boxes, which cost about $5,000 each.