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Copper Considered Safe, Effective in Preventing Hospital-Acquired Infections


 

Concern about Copper’s Effectiveness in Preventing Hospital-Acquired Infections

As public knowledge about the benefits of antimicrobial copper touch surfaces in healthcare facilities continues to grow, questions about this tool naturally arise. Can this copper surface really continuously kill up to 83% of bacteria it comes in contact with? Can it really reduce patient infections by more than half? Can this metal really keep people safer? The answer is “yes,” as has been reported in the Journal of Infection Control, in Hospital Epidemiology, and in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

In his “Letter to the Editor (“Concern about Copper’s Effectiveness in Preventing Hospital-Acquired Infections,” November 2013), Dr. Rod Duraski voices cautions about human sensitivity to copper—noting that implanted copper-nickel alloy devices have the potential for severe allergic reactions; however, implanted devices are not part of the EPA-approved products list of antimicrobial copper and, therefore, are not being proposed for use in the fight against hospital infections. Although some patients might experience sensitivity to jewelry, zippers, or buttons, if made from nickel-containing copper alloys, these reactions will be the result of prolonged skin contact, and when removed, the sensitivity will dissipate. The touch-surface components proposed in Karen Appold’s story, “Copper,” (September 2013) come into very brief and intermittent contact with the skin. And, sensitivities are not life-threatening; hospital-acquired infections are.

Cleaning copper surfaces regularly can significantly cut down the degree to which they might tarnish; however, should the surface tarnish, the antimicrobial effect of this metal is not inhibited.

In fact, three of the four major coin denominations (nickel, dime, quarter) are made from copper-nickel alloys. If these metals are suitable for the everyday exposure we all experience with coinage, they are just as safe when it comes to touch surface components in hospitals. In many instances, the benefits of copper outweigh the relative risk of a rash caused by nickel sensitivity.

Like any surface, copper alloys should be cleaned regularly—especially in hospitals. Copper alloys are compatible with all hospital grade cleaners and disinfectants when the cleaners are used according to manufacturer label instructions. But more importantly, the antimicrobial effect of this metal is not inhibited if the surfaces tarnish. In 2005, a study (www.antimicrobialcopper.com/media/69850/infectious_disease.pdf) found tarnish to be a non-issue when researchers tested the bacterial load on three separate copper alloys, all of which had developed tarnish over time. Additionally, manufacturers are offering components made from tarnish-resistant alloys.

Harold Michels, PhD, senior vice president of technology and technical services, Copper Development Association, Inc.

Correction: April 4, 2014

A version of this article appeared in print in the April 2014 issue of The Hospitalist. Changes have since been made to the online article per the request of the author.

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