Study Shows Bacterial Reduction in an Out-Patient Facility

September 13, 2010


NEW YORK, NY-Preliminary results of a pilot study performed in an Infectious Disease outpatient practice at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System show that, with minor modifications, frequently touched surfaces can be made inhospitable to infectious bacteria. The findings, reported in a poster session today at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Boston, MA, demonstrate that the microbial burden was decreased on phlebotomy chairs fitted with copper trays and arms. No such reduction was found on standard chairs.

The antimicrobial activity of the copper arms of the chairs also created a microbiocidal "halo effect," evident in the reduction of bacteria on adjacent, non-copper, surfaces of the chairs. Researchers found that traditional chairs, even when cleaned regularly, acted as reservoirs for the spread of bacteria, particularly staphylococci, to both patients and healthcare workers.

It is well known that bacteria can survive for extended periods of time on common healthcare touch surfaces in the inpatient environment. Bed rails, call buttons and overbed trays have been demonstrated to be among the worst offenders. The present study approached the problem in an environment that is often overlooked, an outpatient facility, where the high volume of potentially infected people with much more mobility than hospital patients, increases the opportunity for cross contamination.

This analysis of phlebotomy chairs was funded by both the Copper Development Association and the International Copper Association. This phlebotomy chair trial was inspired by an ongoing U.S. Department of Defense-funded clinical trial. So far, testing has demonstrated that antimicrobial copper is effective in reducing the bacterial load in intensive care unit (ICU) patient rooms and on many individual objects in those rooms. The trials are being conducted at three U.S. hospitals: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, both in Charleston, SC.

Independent laboratory testing has proven that copper and copper alloys, such as brass and bronze, kill 99.9 percent of bacteria within two hours, when cleaned regularly and as a supplement to routine cleaning and disinfection programs. These findings led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to register these materials as public health antimicrobial products that can control vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7, all of which are associated with infections or other adverse effects in humans.