3-May-2012

Why install antimicrobial copper? Why not?

‘Self-disinfecting surfaces such as copper are a significant step forward in reducing infection-causing microbial bioloads on clinical surfaces. We should now ask the question: why select a non-antimicrobial surface when we now know that some naturally-occurring metals, such as copper, have this intrinsic antimicrobial activity?’

Addressing assembled product manufacturers, material suppliers and researchers in the field of environmental contamination during an update on the latest antimicrobial copper science from around the world, Professor Tom Elliott offered the above opinion. Instead of estates teams and infection control professionals asking why they should consider antimicrobial copper surfaces, he now poses the challenge: why not?

Touch surfaces such as taps, door handles, light switches and dressings trolleys that were made from copper and copper alloys had 90% less microbial contamination than the same items on the same ward made from conventional materials

Consultant Microbiologist at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, Professor Elliott led the UK trial of antimicrobial copper surfaces at Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital. He and his team discovered touch surfaces such as taps, door handles, light switches and dressings trolleys that were made from copper and copper alloys benefited from the metal’s natural antimicrobial activity and had greater than 90% less microbial contamination on them than the same items on the same ward made from conventional materials. This finding has since been confirmed by results from US and Chilean studies.

In the Selly Oak trial, Professor Elliott judged that the cost of installing antimicrobial copper surfaces on the 20-bed general medical ward was roughly equivalent to the cost associated with treating 1.5 healthcare-associated infections. He further pointed out: ‘For the one-off cost of installing antimicrobial copper surfaces, you get continuous microbial contamination reduction throughout the product’s life, and these materials are durable and long-lasting.’

For the one-off cost of installing antimicrobial copper surfaces, you get continuous microbial contamination reduction throughout the product’s life, and these materials are durable and long-lasting

In further support of rapid payback on an investment in antimicrobial copper, initial data from a Department of Defense-funded US trial has reported a greater than 40% reduction in a patient’s risk of acquiring a healthcare-associated infection when staying in an ICU room with just six highly-touched surfaces made from antimicrobial copper.

Taking into account the wide range of hospital touch surface products now offered by UK and international manufacturers – available in a range of colours, thanks to the variety of antimicrobial copper alloys – it is hardly surprising that NHS and private healthcare facilities are already installing the products in areas where infection prevention is paramount. Adoption of this innovative additional infection control measure is expected to grow as awareness rises and product ranges expand.

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