Antimicrobial copper put to the test

Published: 30-Aug-2013

Copper’s hygienic properties are well known but its antimicrobial properties continue to be quantified in the lab and in the field. The Copper Alliance highlights recent study results and testing developments

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The latest research to emerge from the University of Southampton – where researchers are investigating the inherent antimicrobial properties of copper – shows the metal and many of its alloys will rapidly destroy norovirus, the highly infectious ‘sickness bug’. A presentation at the American Society for Microbiology’s 2013 General Meeting earlier this year stated that norovirus could not survive contact with copper and its alloys. The contamination model used was designed to simulate fingertip-touch contamination of a surface, and the researchers suggest that the use of antimicrobial copper surfaces in high-risk, closed environments (e.g. care facilities or cruise ships) could help reduce the spread of this communicable and costly pathogen.

The significance of this – and previous work demonstrating copper’s rapid efficacy against a wide range of bacteria, viruses and fungi – is that, given an estimated 80% of infections are spread by touch, frequently touched surfaces can act as reservoirs of infection, harbouring pathogens that can survive for days or even months, waiting to be transferred to the next hand that touches them. Those same surfaces – door handles, taps, light switches, hand rails and more – can be made from copper, or an antimicrobially effective copper alloy, and will actively destroy pathogens, continuously reducing bioburden.

While pure copper offers the most rapid effect against pathogens in contact with it, many of its alloys – including the familiar brasses and bronzes – are also very effective, and they offer a range of enhanced properties such as strength, wear resistance and corrosion resistance. Collectively termed ‘antimicrobial copper’, these metals are available in colours ranging from oranges, reds and pinks, through the gold of brasses and warm brown of bronzes, right up to silver-coloured copper-nickels that have the appearance of stainless steel. This means the aesthetic of a particular installation can be considered, with colour-matching suites of products available.

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