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The Total Room Ultraviolet Disinfector is making its debut at a Vancouver hospital.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Her nickname is "Trudi" and she's a five-foot-five, germ-killing, ultraviolet robot battling one of the worst seasons for flu and related illnesses in recent memory.

"We are always on a mission to find new and improved ways to protect our patients from superbugs," said spokeswoman Tiffany Akins of Vancouver General Hospital, where the robot is making its Canadian debut.

"Using UV light disinfection devices could … help contain outbreaks."

Every year, there are approximately 300 to 400 reported outbreaks of norovirus in Canada, and between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die of the flu and its complications, according to Canada's Public Health Agency.

Many people who suffer from flu-like symptoms visit the hospital for treatment, putting other patients and hospital staff at risk.

The Total Room Ultraviolet Disinfector (TRU-D) recently arrived at VGH from Tennessee as part of a five-month pilot project to test mobile disinfection robots. In addition to influenza and norovirus, the robot's microscopic foes include C. difficile and other bacteria. Another bug-killing device – its name could not be confirmed – will also be evaluated. They are considered two of the best machines available, said Ms. Akins, based on independent reviews.

TRU-D is currently making the rounds with housekeepers to patient and operating rooms, as well as the bronchoscopy and endoscopy suites.

After a staff member cleans the room traditionally – stains and dust are not eliminated by TRU-D's UV rays – the cylindrical "superbug slayer" is rolled into the room to "finish the job."

The staff member plugs in TRU-D, then leaves the room and closes the door. After TRU-D is turned on remotely, its patented sensor instantly analyzes the contents, shape and size of the room, then spends between 15 minutes and one hour eliminating germs and viruses with the long UV light bulbs that run up and down its shaft.

Unlike TRU-D, the other bug-killing robot cannot evaluate the scope of the room nor how long it should it operate. Housekeepers will have to input that information themselves. ARAMARK Healthcare, Vancouver Coastal Health's contracted cleaning company, is training staff to operate the machines.

"It's the coolest thing," said Bob Taylor, sales director of TRU-D LLC, which is based out of Memphis, Tenn.

TRU-D's rays "modify the DNA structure of [a bacterial] cell so the cell can't reproduce," Mr. Taylor said. "A cell that can't reproduce can't hurt us."

An environment is considered sterile if it is 99.9999 per cent disinfected. The TRU-D, Mr. Taylor said, can achieve 99.99 per cent.

Although the primary reason for a germ-killing robot is cleanliness, Ms. Akins added that using the machines could also reduce the need for chemical disinfectants, which can be very harmful to the environment. Ms. Akins did not have any data available regarding the quantity of disinfectants used at VGH each year.

The total cost of the VGH pilot program (which includes both robots) is $52,000, $25,000 of which is from in-kind contributions. If either device is effective, Ms. Akins said the hospital will evaluate its budget options. Mr. Taylor said one TRU-D costs $124,500 (U.S.).

Although brand new to Canada, more than 100 TRU-Ds have been sold to hospitals across the U.S. since 2007, Mr. Taylor said. Facilities currently using the TRU-D include the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington, Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of North Carolina.