U.K. Hospital to Test Copper's Ability to Fight Germs

March 19, 2007


NEW YORK - Beginning in April 2007, Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, U.K., will be participating in an 18-month clinical trial to test whether copper alloy touch surfaces help reduce the incidence of deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in their facility. Trials are also being planned for hospitals in the United States.

According to the U.K.'s National Audit Office almost 300,000 hospital patients will acquire an infection while in the hospital; almost 5,000 people will die from infections and MRSA will cause more than 1,600 of those deaths. In the USA, those numbers are substantially larger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates infections acquired in U.S. hospitals affect 2 million individuals every year, costing $30 billion and resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths annually.

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K. compared the ability of copper and its alloys, such as brass, bronze and copper nickel, to eradicate strains of MRSA with that of stainless steel, a material commonly used for work and touch surfaces in healthcare facilities. Testing has shown that MRSA - one of the most virulent pathogens in the healthcare environment - cannot survive on pure copper surfaces for more than 45 minutes. C.W. Keevil, Ph.D., director of the Environmental Healthcare Unit at Southampton University and lead researcher of the studies, explains the effectiveness of copper alloys, "The metal reacts with the bacteria and inhibits their respiration." In fact, studies show that copper and copper alloys affect pathogens other than MRSA. Tests have shown copper also effectively eliminates E. coli and Influenza A, among many others.

Because 80 percent of infectious diseases occurs through contact with contaminated surfaces, all of the stainless steel door handles, push plates, chrome-plated bathroom faucets and toilet flush handles, and powder-coated steel grab rails in one ward of Selly Oak Hospital will be replaced with various copper alloys - even the pens used by the hospital staff will be made of brass.

According to Harold Michels, Ph.D., of the Copper Development Association, which, along with the International Copper Association, is sponsoring the Southampton University studies, "People have been using copper to fight infections and illness for thousands of years. The Egyptians used it to sterilize drinking water, the fifth century B.C. Greek doctor Hippocrates used it to treat skin irritations and open wounds, and the Aztecs used it on sore throats." Dr. Michels says the published studies suggest using copper alloys for frequently touched hardware should help cut down cross-contamination and the spread of infection. He says, if the clinical trial at Selly Oak Hospital successfully replicates the laboratory findings, hospitals may be armed with another way to fight MRSA.


The University of Southampton is one of the U.K.'s top 10 research universities, with a global reputation for excellence in both teaching and research.