• Copper can kill bacteria but hospitals must keep it clean
  • February 20, 2015
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  • Last year research from the Medical University of South Carolina was published finding copper alloy could reduce the spread of bacteria, but a new study says sweat reduces the copper's effectiveness, the University of Leicester reported.

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in every 25 patients in the U.S. becomes infected with bacteria while receiving medical care at a hospital. These infections threaten patient safety and lead to patient deaths. More than 200 people in the U.S. die from health care-related infections each day, the CDC stated. Health care-related infections can also cost up to $45 billion a year, according to CNN.

    The antibacterial metal
    Between 2010 and 2011, copper was placed on surfaces, such as bed rails, tables and nurse's call buttons, in intensive care units to determine if the metal could reduce healthcare-related infections. The South Carolina researchers found only 3.4 percent of patients in the copper-fortified rooms acquired health care-related infections compared to 8.1 percent of patients in traditional hospital rooms.

    How does it work?
    It's believed a charge is exchanged between copper and bacteria when the two meet, the University of Leicester stated. This charge degrades the bacteria DNA, killing it and stopping it from spreading.

    Erosion of the benefits
    A new study by researchers at the University of Leicester has found the antibacterial property of copper in hospitals can be reduced by people's sweat. As people touch the copper, the sweat from their palms causes an oxide layer to form on the copper and corrode it, which decreases the metal's ability to kill bacteria.

    If hospitals want to keep their antibacterial copper effective, Dr. John Bond, a professor at the University of Leicester, suggested the hospitals regularly clean the copper to remove the oxide layer and stop corrosion.

    Hand washing
    Physicians and hospital staff shouldn't rely on the copper alone to stop the spread of infections either. It's critical all hospital staff regularly wash their hands by lathering their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, according to the CDC.

    The CDC also warns that alcohol-based sanitizers are not as effective as soap and water and won't kill all types of germs. If the sanitizers are the only option, staff should apply the product and rub it across their hands until both hands are dry.