November 10, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK, NY— The spread of infectious and often deadly diseases in our hospitals has become a major threat to patient safety, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which estimates that infections acquired in healthcare facilities now result in some 88,000 deaths each year in the USA.
Adding to the problem, hospital infections are growing more resistant to antimicrobial drugs. One of the deadliest bacteria found in hospitals today is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a so-called "superbug" that does not respond to conventional antibiotics.
However, researchers at the University of Southampton in England recently announced exciting new findings that could help prevent the spread of MRSA bacteria. At the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in May, they reported that untreated copper and certain copper-alloy surfaces effectively stop the spread of MRSA by limiting the time the bacteria are able to live on its surface.
Copper More Effective than Stainless Steel
Officials with the Copper Development Association in New York describe the Southampton study as "a significant breakthrough that may help to prevent a crisis in our healthcare system." The study, conducted by Drs. C. William Keevil and J.O. Noyce, determined that MRSA can survive for a maximum of 90 minutes on a surface made from 99% copper, while the bacteria stay alive for 72 hours or more on stainless steel - the most common metal used in healthcare facilities today.
In the USA alone, each year nearly 2 million patients are infected while receiving health care in hospitals. Most infections are spread from direct or indirect contact with an infected healthcare worker and are especially common in intensive care units, where the use of body-invasive equipment makes transmission of germs much easier.
Other Bacteria Also Eliminated
A similar study showed that copper is equally effective at eliminating Listeria monocytogenes - a bacterium that originates in soil and water and is spread during food handling.
Some 500 people die from Listeria contamination every year, according to the CDC, and approximately 2,500 become seriously ill. Eliminating bacteria such as Listeria is one of the reasons we rinse raw vegetables and fruits before eating and are instructed to cook all meat and poultry thoroughly.
When Listeria bacteria are placed on a copper, brass or bronze surface, they survive only 60 minutes, the study found. However, the bacteria survive up to several days on stainless steel, the predominant work surface used in most food-service establishments, including meat-packing plants and restaurants.
Research is continuing, but according to the CDA these and other studies suggest that a better choice for food handling, hospital and healthcare facilities would be doorknobs and handles, push plates, work surfaces and other hardware products made from durable, cost-competitive copper alloys.
For more information on copper's antimicrobial properties, visit our Copper & Human Health section.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Download a high-resolution image to go with this story from Discover Copper Edition #2.