Vancouver General Hospital has received an international innovation award for its groundbreaking infection control research.

The hospital used a process called nasal photodisinfection to kill harmful bacteria prior to surgery during a 12-month pilot project.

More than 5,000 patients were treated, reducing post-surgical infection by almost 40 per cent and saving the hospital $1.3 million in post-surgical infections and re-admissions.

The research team, led by Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, competed against 40 international teams to win the prize, which was handed out last week at the International Consortium for Prevention and Infection Control (ICPIC) in Geneva.

The team was also awarded $11,000 in prize money, which will be re-invested in infection control research.

Innovative light therapy

"What we know is surgical site infections usually come from bacteria already living on the patient, on their skin and in their nose," said Dr. Titus Wong, a medical microbiologist at VGH.

"After surgery, some of these bacteria can go into these incisions and cause infections."

Wong said the hospital traditionally uses antibiotic ointment, which takes five to seven days to work, driving up resistance and costs.

"Light therapy doesn't generate resistance," he said. "We were able to eradicate more than just these bacteria. We can also eradicate the drug-resistant bacteria."

Nasal photodisinfection involves applying a blue dye to the inside of a patient's nose before surgery. The dye attaches itself to germs and when a light is shone inside, potentially "bad" bacteria are destroyed.

The technology was developed by Ondine Biomedical, a Vancouver-based company.

Light therapy will now be a standard approach at VGH, Wong said.

With files from CBC's Terry Donnelly