Contact with Copper May Kill E. coli O157

July 1, 1998


NEW YORK - Preliminary research by the Center for Applied Microbiology and Research (CAMR), located in Wiltshire, U.K., indicates the disease-causing bacterium, E. coli O157, is killed within hours of its contact with copper surfaces, according to an announcement made here today by the International Copper Association, sponsor of the study.

Dr. Chris Lee, ICA's director of health and environmental services, said these early findings are exciting because they may offer a convenient and significant way to contain outbreaks of food- and waterborne disease around the world. "Tens of thousands of cases of bacterial gastroenteritis and numerous deaths may be prevented." Lee said further, peer-reviewed research is needed before these findings can be confirmed. The research will also investigate whether copper plumbing could reduce or eliminate E. coli O157 found in drinking water. Previous research shows copper plumbing can inhibit nontoxic strains of E. coli. Completion of the CAMR study is expected by the end of 1999.

Robert M. Payne, president of the Copper Development Association in the United States, points out that the survival of Escherichia coli O157 on work surfaces used for food preparation in domestic kitchens, restaurants and slaughterhouses can increase the risk of cross contamination. He says the potential benefit of using copper surfaces to contain E. coli O157 contamination is tremendously exciting.

The bacteria-killing properties of copper have been know for many thousands of years and are mentioned in the records of early civilizations. More recently, research funded by ICA and the Water Quality Center of Thames Water Utilities Ltd., has shown that pathogens such as the Polio virus, opportunistic Legionella pneumophila, Pseudomonas flourescens, Bacillus subtilis and the Bateriophage M2 are inhibited by passage through copper plumbing tube. In hospitals, copper based paint, brass door knobs and push plates have been shown to help reduce cross contamination.