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Copper's inherent antimicrobial properties could play an increasingly important role in reducing hospital infections, researchers are finding. Placement of copper objects in intensive care unit hospital rooms reduced the number of health care associated infections (HAIs) in patients by more than half, according to a study published in the May 2013 issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.(1)
“Our study found that placement of items with copper surfaces into ICU rooms as an additional measure to routine infection control practices could reduce the risk of HAI as well as colonization with multidrug resistant microbes,” says Cassandra D. Salgado, MD, Associate Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina and lead author of the study.
Common hospital pathogens that are susceptible to copper’s killing powers include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE). However, the researchers say the results could be just as good with Clostridium difficile and Acinetobacter baumannii, pathogens that have a marked ability to persist on environmental surfaces in patient rooms.
The study was performed from July 12, 2010 to June 14, 2011 at three medical centers including the Medical University of South Carolina, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Patients who were admitted to the ICU of these hospitals were randomly assigned to receive care in a traditional patient room or in a room where items such as bed rails, tables, IV poles, and nurse’s call buttons were made solely from copper-based metals. Both traditional patient rooms and rooms with copper surfaces at each institution were cleaned using the same practices.
The proportion of patients who developed HAI and/or colonization with MRSA or VRE were significantly lower among patients in rooms with copper surfaces (7.1%) compared with patients in traditional rooms (12.3%). The proportion of patients developing HAI was significantly lower among those assigned to copper rooms (3.4%) compared with those in traditional rooms (8.1%).
Previous attempts to reduce HAIs have required healthcare worker engagement or use of systems such as ultraviolet light, which may be limited because of regrowth of organisms after the intervention, the authors note. In contrast, copper alloy surfaces offer a passive way to reduce burden, without staff intervention or involvement with outside providers. This study was funded through a contract from the U.S. Army Materiel Command, U.S. Department of Defense, agencies that are particularly interested in reducing A. baumannii infections in wounded soldiers. One researcher is currently employed by the Copper Development Association (CDA). CDA assisted in the development and fabrication of the copper objects for this study, the authors disclose.
For a full report on this study see the May 2013 issue Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.
1. Salgado CD, Sepkowitz K, John J, et al. Copper Surfaces Reduce the Rate of Healthcare-Acquired Infections in the Intensive Care Unit. Infect Control Hosp Epi 2013;34:5.