Military Research Supports Use of Antimicrobial Copper to Protect Patients from the Spread of Infection

RG3 research into copper’s antimicrobial efficacy. Courtesy of The Bundeswehr.

Bundeswehr research on copper’s efficacy against biothreat pathogens is to be presented at the Congress for Hospital Hygiene in Berlin today, adding to evidence highlighting copper’s role in protecting patients from the spread of infection.

11th April 2016

Conducted under the auspices of the Bundeswehr—Germany’s armed forces—work from the Institute of Microbiology demonstrates copper’s ability to rapidly destroy organisms associated with serious or lethal human disease, and with the potential to be used in biological warfare. The organisms tested include Yersinia pestis (plague), Brucella melitensis (brucellosis) and monkeypox virus. All these pathogens are categorised as Risk Group 3 (RG3) and require specialist staff and laboratories for safe handling.

Environmental decontamination, and the prevention of cross contamination, requires a level of hygiene that is difficult to achieve consistently in military or civilian healthcare operations. The use of self-disinfecting surfaces like copper can help provide an additional measure to boost disinfection practices.

The Bundeswehr research extends the current evidence base for copper, which focuses on the pathogens that cause healthcare-associated infections, and demonstrates its efficacy against those with potential for bioterrorism—bacteria such as those that cause plague and brucellosis, and viruses causing monkeypox—and therefore of potential concern in military healthcare facilities.

Dr Gregor Grass of the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, who supervised the work, observes: ‘When this research began, no studies had explored the inactivation of Risk Group 3 organisms on copper, with the exception of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It is important to show antimicrobial copper surfaces are effective in terms of complete and irreversible inactivation of RG3 organisms, given they can be used as biological warfare agents.’

The results—from tests simulating touch contamination events at room temperature—showed the high risk pathogens were rapidly and completely inactivated by copper from 30 seconds to five minutes.

Colonel Prof Dr Lothar Zoeller, MD and Director of the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, explains: ‘The antimicrobial efficacy of solid copper surfaces is now so well-established that it should be considered an essential additional tool in breaking the chain of infection. This is also true for both military and civilian healthcare environments, where barrier nursing of patients with highly contagious diseases is undertaken.’

The Congress is the 13th annual event of the German Society for Hospital Hygiene and serves as a knowledge exchange for infection control specialists. The event is themed around hospital hygiene and features the latest strategies for infection control including a workshop on the use of solid copper touch surfaces to reduce the transmission of pathogens.

Copper is a powerful antimicrobial with rapid, broad-spectrum efficacy against bacteria and viruses, and has been shown to kill the pathogens that cause healthcare-associated infections, including MRSA, E.coli and norovirus. It shares this benefit with a range of copper alloys—such as brasses and bronzes—forming a family of materials collectively called ‘antimicrobial copper’. In hospital trials, antimicrobial copper surfaces have been found to harbour >80% less contamination than non-copper surfaces. A multi-centre US clinical trial in ICUs further showed they can reduce infections by 58%.

Research presented at the congress provides the evidence base for adding antimicrobial copper to existing infection control measures, and the workshop—to be held 13 April—will further explore the practical and economic aspects of this approach, broadening adoption from hospitals to all healthcare facilities where the spread of infection is a concern, military and civilian alike.

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P30: Inactivation of Highly Virulent Pathogens on Solid Metallic Copper Surfaces
P. Bleichert, G. Grass
German Society for Hospital Hygiene (DGKH) 2016 Congress


Workshop: Arriving in Clinics? Antimicrobial Copper-based Building Materials
13th April. 11:00–12:30, Room 16/17

Dr. Anton Klassert, Deutsches Kupferinstitut – Research and Practice: the State of Play

Prof. Dr. Jörg Braun, Chief Physician, Medical Director and Director of Hospital Hygiene, Park-Klinik Manhagen ­– Hospital Hygiene: Limits and Possibilities

Dr. Klaus Ockenfeld, Deutsches Kupferinstitut – Antimicrobial Efficacy of Copper Under the Influence of Selected Disinfectants

PD Dr. Rainer Markgraf, Chief Physician and Director of Hospital Hygiene, Hagen General Hospital –Copper Components in the Hospital: Design Options for Use

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.

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