Copper-Surface Experiment Makes Immediate Impact


Given the encouraging results published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology regarding the effectiveness of copper-alloy surfaces in killing bacteria, one institution has decided to go full steam ahead with installing copper components.1

The Ronald McDonald House of Charleston, S.C. (RMHC), a home for families of critically ill children who are being treated at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), was the first nonprofit, temporary-residence facility in the U.S. to undertake an antimicrobial copper retrofit.

“We were the ideal public building site to test copper’s antimicrobial efficacy outside of ICUs,” says Robin Willis, RMHC’s antimicrobial project manager.

South Carolina Research Authority, which managed the study, approached RMHC about being the “guinea pig.”

“The families would get the benefits for a long time, and we would have additional data outside of a closed ICU,” Willis says. “Additionally, it gave vendors a testing ground for copper components.”

Surfaces that were identified in the study as having the highest bacteria counts (stair railings, sinks, faucets, tables, locksets, cabinet pulls, and chair arms) were replaced with solid, copper-based metals such as bronze and brass that are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Copper Development Association donated the bulk of funds for the project. Copper manufacturers and installers donated their time and materials.

Initial discussions about the project began in 2010; copper installations started in November 2011. The facility remained open and fully functional throughout the project, which was completed in April 2012.

MUSC measured the amount of bacteria on touch surfaces prior to the copper retrofit, then compared the amount of bacteria on the new copper surfaces against their predecessors.

“Bacteria levels dropped more than 90 percent, around the clock, without cleaning agents,” Willis says.

The study’s lead investigator, Michael Schmidt, PhD, professor and vice chair of the department of microbiology and immunology at MUSC, says the practical application of antimicrobial copper “provides a strong, real-world example of the public-health benefits of copper materials, not only in a health-care setting, but also in hotels, restaurants, and other public gathering places.” TH

Karen Appold is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania.


1. Salgado CD, Sepkowitz KA, John JF, et al. Copper surfaces reduce the rate of healthcare-acquired infections in the intensive care unit. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2013;34(5):479-486.

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