Submitted by: John Warner on Nov 17, 2007 at 10:22 am
Tagged with: antimicrobial, health services

Studies have shown that copper alloy surfaces in health facilities and public places can help prevent the spread of disease-causing bacteria like MRSA and this has attracted funding for clinical trials from the US Congress.

RENO, NV – US Congress has awarded a second round of funds for clinical trials to prove that the use of copper metals for health facility and public surfaces to help reduce and/or preempt deadly pathogens in healthcare and other public environments.

Recent studies have shown that uncoated copper and copper alloys can inactivate common disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli, streptococcus and staphylococcus. Copper alloys surfaces have proven effective against one of the more virulent strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus.

MRSA “superbugs” are resistant to many forms of antibiotics. The number of reports of MRSA infections rises annually, and the latest evidence suggests that deaths due to MRSA are increasing at a similar rate. Governments are trying to slow down the growth rate of the bacteria.

Of the two studies funded by federal appropriations, one is focused on the ability of copper alloy surfaces to kill deadly pathogens and impede cross-contamination. The grants will be used to complete the pilot conversion of touch surfaces at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the Medical University of South Carolina and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, both in Charleston, South Carolina. Extensive clinical trials have begun at all three facilities.

Copper compounds have been used to treat disease, sterilize drinking water and wounds in the time of Ancient Egypt. Hippocrates treated wounds and skin irritations with copper while the Romans catalogued numerous medicinal uses of copper for various diseases. In the 19th Century, scientists began to study how to capitalize on copper’s antimicrobial properties to provide additional benefits.

Over the centuries, the antimicrobial uses of copper have included fungicides, antifouling paints, medicines, oral hygiene products, medical devices, antiseptics and other useful applications.

MRSA was eliminated in laboratory studies on pure copper surfaces in 1.5 hours although the pathogens can survive for more than 30 days on stainless steel. Studies have shown the more concentrated the copper content of the alloy, the more quickly bacteria die.

Surfaces located nearest to healthcare facility patients are of the most concern. Items such as door and furniture hardware, bed rails, railings, stands, medical monitoring equipment, faucets, skins and work surface are considered the most critical. Use of materials that can provide continual antimicrobial protection, stand up to everyday use, and require only a little maintenance are believed to help stem infections caused by cross-contamination.

The touch surface trials will determine how well natural copper, brass and bronze surfaces mitigate infectious microbes, decrease cross-contamination and help reduce the incidence of hospital infections in patients.

Congressional funds are also being used for a companion study comparing copper air-conditioning system components with parts made of aluminum as to their ability to control the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. The trials are designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of copper surfaces in reducing microbes in HVAC systems and minimizing exposure to the bacteria throughout buildings heated and cooled by these systems.

The HVAC lab studies are taking place at the University of South Carolina in the Arnold School pf Public Health. Fields trails will be performed at the Moncrief Army Community Hospital and barracks at Fort Jackson, the Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Dr. Harold Michels, Vice President of Technical and Information Services for the Copper Development Association, said, “The result of these real-world trials should encourage a leap forward in the design of HVAC systems and make a major contribution to the reduction of Sick Building Syndrome and the improvement of indoor air quality.”

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