Healthcare News & Insights

Copper may be key to reducing hospital-acquired infections

Hospitals have to get creative and use all available resources in the battle to prevent patients from contracting hospital-acquired infections. One interesting technique that’s been proven to reduce infections: putting copper objects in hospital rooms.

CopperIt may sound strange, but according to a study in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, described in a press release put out by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, using copper in the intensive-care unit (ICU) helps keep rooms free of germs.

Three hospitals participated in the study: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (NY), the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center (SC) and the Medical University of South Carolina.

In each hospital, patients who were admitted to the ICU were randomly assigned patient rooms where various items were made of copper-based metals, including call buttons, bed rails, tables and IV poles. Other patient rooms were outfitted with standard materials. All rooms were cleaned the same way.

The results were significant: Patients treated in the rooms containing copper items had much lower rates of infections than those in the standard rooms. While 8.1% of patients in the traditional hospital room developed a hospital-acquired infection, only 3.4% of patients were sickened when treated in a room filled with copper items.

Colonization rates in patients for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) also decreased for those in patient rooms with copper items. Colonization occurred in 7.1% of patients in the copper rooms, compared to 12.3% of patients in standard rooms.

How copper prevents the spread of bacteria

Copper works as a defense against infection because it has natural antimicrobial properties, which can stop the growth of harmful bacteria.

In fact, the study found that, after two hours, copper can kill 83% of bacteria that cause hospital-acquired infections. It’s even effective against bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotics, which are on the rise in hospitals across the country.

Unlike other methods, replacing common hospital items with copper substitutes doesn’t require any extra effort on the part of hospital staff. Rather, it’s a more passive method of controlling infection rates that, when coupled with standard infection control procedures, could make it much easier for hospitals to keep infection-causing germs at bay.

Hospitals can learn more about the germ-fighting properties of copper by visiting the website for Antimicrobial Copper, a specific brand of copper products designed for use in hospitals.

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