Healthcare News & Insights

Copper kills bacteria in hospital rooms

There’s new evidence of the germ-fighting power of copper surfaces in hospitals. And it may present a compelling argument for your facility to start using copper-based products in patient rooms. 

Copper has long been thought to have natural properties that kill bacteria, which may curb the spread of deadly superbugs and other germs in hospitals. The latest test of this theory was recently published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Fewer germs on surfaces

In the study, researchers outfitted several hospital rooms in a small rural hospital with copper equipment. Items that were touched often, such as door handles, faucet handles, toilet flush levers and light switches, were switched out for those made of copper. The other rooms had traditional versions of these items made of porcelain, plastic and metal.

According to the study, all rooms were cleaned regularly based on a standard protocol, using disinfectants that were compatible with the item’s surface material. Every week for a year, each item was swabbed and tested for bacterial contamination by seeing if bacteria would grow in a petri dish.

After the year ended, researchers looked at which items had the highest levels of bacteria. Toilet flush handles had the most bacteria on them overall, according to an article about the study in the New York Times.

However, rooms with copper equipment had significantly lower levels of bacterial contamination than their counterparts. Concentrations of bacteria were 98% lower in rooms with copper equipment. In fact, bacteria failed to grow at all on half the copper items.

So placing copper equipment in patient rooms could be an excellent addition to a facility’s infection control plan, since the material can kill germs before they make patients ill.

Plus, the cost of putting copper replacement items in patient rooms may be well worth it, given that facilities are already being penalized financially for having high rates of preventable infections. Reducing the germs in patients’ rooms may lower the rates of these infections and allow hospitals to avoid losing additional revenue.

Prevention plans

Although copper surfaces can be helpful to a hospital’s infection prevention efforts, facilities shouldn’t rely on them alone.

Researchers from the American Journal for Infection Control stressed that regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas in patient rooms is crucial, as is practicing correct hand hygiene. It can take up to two hours for copper to naturally kill germs that do end up on these surfaces, so there’s still a small risk of spreading infection in the meantime.

Putting copper equipment in patients’ rooms won’t take the place of tried-and-true cleaning techniques, but the germ-fighting material serves as another weapon to add to your arsenal.

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