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Copper: A revolutionary agent in cleaning and infection control?

Posted on: Thursday, January 28th, 2016

There is an unexpected weapon in the war against grime and infections in a healthcare setting.

That weapon is copper. According to new research, the metal has proven effective in reducing healthcare-associated infections.

The study was undertaken in a major paediatric hospital and it was found that copper significantly contributed to a safer environment for vulnerable patients.

Published in the American Journal of Infection Control, the study, led by Dr Bettina von Dessauer, revealed that when copper objects were introduced to eight study rooms, it reduced germs by 73 per cent. Antimicrobial copper bed rails further reduced bacteria by 99 per cent.

The research was conducted at Roberto del Rio Hospital, the oldest paediatric facility in Chile.

Overall, 16 rooms in Paediatric Intensive Care and Paediatric Intermediate Care were analysed as part of the study.

Researchers began by attempting to ascertain how much bacteria typically resided on touched surfaces.

In the majority of cases, it was found that contamination levels exceeded the proposed safe threshold of 500 colony-forming units (cfu) per 100 sq cm.

This meant that these surfaces posed the same risk level as that reported in adult intensive care units, where copper has proven effective in reducing infections by more than half.

Bed rails were by far the most contaminated surfaces, closely followed by levers, IV poles, tap handles and healthcare workstations.

For this reason, researchers decided to test the efficacy of copper on these surfaces, and they were subsequently replaced with the metal.

Researchers then came back once every two weeks for a year in order to compare the results with their previous findings.

The results were significant. What it showed was that there was an 88 per cent reduction of bacteria, compared to those surfaces in the control rooms.

Furthermore, 94 per cent contained bacterial concentrations within recommended limits once a surface has been terminally cleaned.

Researchers also found that the majority (58 per cent) of those copper surfaces had concentrations below the limit of detection. 

On the other hand, in rooms which did not contain copper, just 48 per cent of control items were below this critical level, with only three per cent of the control objects found to be below the limit of detection.

The study also showed that copper surfaces were found to be significantly effective in lowering the burden found in multibed rooms associated with paediatric intensive care units.

It therefore concluded that copper should take a leading role in infection control strategies, and that the metal should be considered when contemplating the introduction of no-touch disinfection technologies.