Use of Copper Surfaces In Intensive Care Units Reduces Nosocomial Infections

by Dr Sam Girgis on July 5, 2011

Nosocomial infections are acquired by hospitalized patients as a result of being in a hospital.  By definition, these infections occur after 48 hours of admission to the hospital or within 30 days of discharge from the hospital.  These types of infections are typically more severe and cause more morbidity because the bacteria that cause them are usually antibiotic resistant.  In many cases, these bacteria are multi-drug resistant and very few available antibiotics show any efficacy in eliminating the infection.  Many different strategies have been used to minimize the impact of nosocomial infections on the health of hospitalized patients.  These strategies include airborne isolation, droplet isolation, and contact isolation.  Frequent and vigorous hand washing is strongly advocated and can significantly limit the spread of nosocomial infections.  Despite these strategies to limit and minimize nosocomial infections, hospital acquired infections remains the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.  Nosocomial infections carry a significant burden of morbidity and mortality, and are only surpassed by heart disease, stroke, and cancer.  It is estimated that 1.7 million hospital acquired infections occur every year.   Annually, there are over 100,000 lives lost due to nosocomial infections at an annual cost of $4.5 billion to the health care system.  Research conducted in a multicenter study was presented on July 1, 2011 by Dr. Michael Schmidt to the World Health Organization’s 1st International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control and showed that the use of copper lined surfaces in intensive care units reduces hospital acquired infection rates.  The study was funded by the United States Department of Defense and was conducted at 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, South Carolina.  The investigators replaced items in the intensive care unit which are heavily touched such as nurse call buttons, bed side rails, and food trays with similar copper lined items.  The results showed that antimicrobial copper surfaces can kill 97 percent of the bacteria that cause nosocomial infections.  Antimicrobial copper lined items can kill MRSA, VRE, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7.  In addition, the results showed a 40 percent reduction in the potential risk of becoming infected.  These results are very significant and have the potential to dramatically decrease the incidence of hospital acquired infections, save the health care system countless amounts of money, and most importantly save lives.  Future directions will focus on implementing this strategy on a wide scale basis throughout the United States and other parts of the world.


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Chris Bergstrom July 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Does anyone know how copper does this? What properties make it better at killing microbes than other similar metals?

Also, this study must have made the ICUs look very stylish.


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