Engineering Against Antibiotic Resistance with Antimicrobial Copper

Antimicrobial Copper surfaces in the Bostonian Sleep Clinic, UK

A key presentation at the Infection Control show within the Patient First conference on 22 November will look at a simple engineering solution to help fight the global threat of antibiotic resistance: antimicrobial copper touch surfaces.

20th October 2016

In the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance, backed by the UN, the prevention of infection is one of five strategies to tackle the global rise of AMR. If not stemmed, the WHO advise AMR could result in one death every three seconds by 2050.

Pathogenic bacteria can survive on standard environmental surfaces in healthcare facilities, leading to the risk of patients acquiring an infection. Reducing healthcare-associated infections reduces the need for antibiotics, which is another of the WHO’s five strategies.

It is accepted that hand hygiene, and surface cleaning and disinfection, are standard measures to prevent and control HCAIs, but more needs to be done to prevent the spread of pathogens by staff, visitors and patients touching contaminated surfaces. What is not always appreciated is that bacteria deposited and surviving on a surface can exchange genes—including those for antibiotic resistance—which can result in new, resistant strains.

Professor Bill Keevil, Chair in Environmental Healthcare at the University of Southampton, is a leading expert on the hygienic properties of copper, and believes replacing frequently-touched surfaces with antimicrobial copper equivalents—teamed with good hygiene practices—could help address both the environmental spread of contamination and the rise of antibiotic resistance.

Copper is a powerful antimicrobial with rapid, broad-spectrum efficacy against bacteria and viruses, and has been shown to kill disease-causing pathogens, including influenza A, E.coli and norovirus, and resistant bacteria including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE). It shares this benefit with a range of copper alloys—such as brasses and bronzes—forming a family of materials collectively called ‘antimicrobial copper’.

‘We’ve shown that antimicrobial copper touch surfaces produce a rapid kill of bacteria, viruses and fungi, usually within minutes,’ says Professor Keevil. ‘EPIC 3—the national, evidence-based guidelines for preventing HCAIs in NHS Hospitals in England—recognise high-touch surfaces made from antimicrobial copper harbour 80–90% fewer bacteria than equivalent, non-copper surfaces. A multi-centre trial in the US further showed a concurrent 58% reduction in HCAIs in ICU rooms equipped with antimicrobial copper touch surfaces.’

Professor Keevil also observes that gene transfer between bacteria does not occur on copper because bacteria are destroyed rapidly and completely. This means the genes for antibiotic resistance can’t be exchanged, contributing to a reduced likelihood of new resistant strains emerging.

Professor Keevil’s presentation, ‘The Case for Antimicrobial Copper’, will take place in the Infection Control stream, from 15:45 in Infection Prevention and Control Theatre 1 on 22 November.

A second presentation—looking at an NHS Trust’s experience with installing antimicrobial copper as an additional infection control measure—‘Breaking the Chain of Infection with Antimicrobial Copper’, will take place from 12:05 in Infection Prevention and Control Theatre 2 on 23 November, presented by Delly Dickson, Service Redesign Manager for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust.

For more information on antimicrobial copper, visit

For further information, contact:

Bryony Samuel
Communications Officer
Copper Development Association

Copper and copper alloys are engineering materials that are durable, colourful and recyclable and are widely available in various product forms suitable for a range of manufacturing purposes. Copper and its alloys offer a suite of materials for designers of functional, sustainable and cost-effective products.

Copper and certain copper alloys have intrinsic antimicrobial properties (so-called ‘Antimicrobial Copper’) and products made from these materials have an additional, secondary benefit of contributing to hygienic design. Products made from Antimicrobial Copper are a supplement to, not a substitute for standard infection control practices. It is essential that current hygiene practices are continued, including those related to the cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. Find out more by following this link.