Could Copper be the Answer to Healthcare Acquired Infections?

January 13, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

As unsettling as it may be, your chances of catching an infection can dramatically increase when you check into a hospital. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a tiny little hospital in a small town or a state of the art complex in the largest metropolitan area you can find. Infections that are contracted in a hospital that have nothing to do with the original medical problem are generally referred to as HAIs. HAI stands for healthcare-acquired infection. But may also be called a healthcare-associated infection. Many times the problems will be minor. But some, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or pneumonia, can be fatal.

This is even verified by the World Health Organization, which estimates that hundreds of millions of patients are affected by HAIs each year. That number, of course, includes patients from all around the world. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, one out of every 25 hospital patients will acquire one in the U.S. And Tom Frieden, MD, MPH and director of the CDC says that 200 people die everyday during their hospital stay due to an HAI.

Hospital Bed Railings and Fixtures

Hospital bed rails are prime spots for infection and bacteria to hang out. But Chilean researcher Constanza Correa hopes to change that by showing that copper safety rails will reduce infections. Copper, naturally anti-microbial, kills viruses, yeasts and bacteria quick, which is why it’s been coined as “contact killing”. Ancient Egyptian medical write-ups reveal that even they knew this and used copper for sterilizing drinking water and even chest wounds.

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America reports that the replacement of surfaces in patient rooms with copper surfaces cut the number of HAI cases in half. Some of the surfaces that were tested include bed rails, IV poles, tables and nurse call buttons.

Microbial Growth in HVAC Systems

Ever heard of sick building syndrome? This is the term coined for sickness that’s the result of poor air quality, often stemming from microbial contaminants. The dark, moist areas within an HVAC system are the perfect breeding ground for these contaminants… i.e. bacteria, viruses, mold and mildew, microbial spores and pathogenic fungi. Once there, it can easily be transferred through the filters and air ducts. And don’t think that hospitals are immune and completely, sparkly clean down in there. Construction business partners from MonMon carried out a study that’s quite disturbing. And this was done in an upscale, enormous hospital with tons of specialists on hand including brain surgeons and much of what they found was in the HVAC system directly connected to an operating room.

And the Copper Air Quality Program believes copper may be a viable solution for this, too. Pathogenic bacteria on copper alloys are eliminated within just a few hours when the air is cool (in air conditioning) and within 90 minutes at room temperature. Plus, it’s even more thermally conductive than common HVAC materials like aluminum or stainless steel, which means it’s more energy efficient.

While many strategies may be a possibility, and have been studied, we’ve yet to come anywhere close to getting hospitals sterile enough. Copper could even kill certain contaminants that have become immune to bleach and other cleaners. And with copper, it’s passive. It’s constantly working to kill off the nasties that lead to HAIs.

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