Trial Finds Copper Reduces Healthcare-Associated Infections

PR869 Hospital Bed

New research has shown that the use of antimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units (ICUs) can reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) by 58% as compared to patients treated in ICUs with non-copper touch surfaces.  This is the first time an intervention designed to reduce microbial burden has had a clinical impact on ICU patients.

9th April 2013

In Europe, 1 out of every 14 hospital patients develops an HCAI, resulting in an estimated 147,000 deaths every year1.  According to a new paper published in the SHEA Journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, while numerous strategies have been developed to decrease these infections, antimicrobial copper is the only one that works continuously, has scientifically-proven efficacy and does not depend on human behaviour2.  It also shows that copper surfaces work in tandem with standard infection prevention practices to significantly reduce microbial burden and HCAIs.

The study, funded by the United States Department of Defense, was conducted in the ICUs of three major US hospitals: The Medical University of South Carolina, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the Ralph H Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina.  It follows research in hospitals in the UK, Germany, Japan and Chile exploring copper's ability to continuously reduce bioburden.

"Copper alloy surfaces offer an alternative way to reduce the increasing number of HCAIs, without having to worry about changing healthcare worker behaviour," explains Dr Michael Schmidt, Vice Chairman of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina and one of the study's authors.  "Because the antimicrobial effect is a continuous property of copper, the regrowth of deadly bacteria is significantly less on these surfaces, making a safer environment for hospital patients."

To determine the impact of copper alloy surfaces - collectively-termed 'antimicrobial copper' - on the rate of HCAIs, frequently-touched surfaces were replaced with antimicrobial copper equivalents.  ICU rooms were chosen as intensive care patients are at higher risk from infections due to the severity of their illnesses and the frequency of invasive procedures and interaction with healthcare workers.  Patients were randomly placed in available rooms with or without antimicrobial copper surfaces, and the rates of HCAIs were compared.  A total of 650 patients and 16 rooms (eight copper and eight standard) were studied between July 2010 and June 2011.

The first results of this study, which appeared last July in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, found that antimicrobial copper reduced average bioburden by 83% over a period of 21 months3.  The study compared copper to equivalent non-copper touch surfaces during active patient care, between routine cleaning and disinfection.  It also showed that two significant antibiotic-resistant pathogens - MRSA and VRE - were much less likely to be found on copper surfaces.

In the study results, 46 patients developed an HCAI, while 26 patients became colonised with MRSA or VRE.  Overall, the proportion of patients who developed an HCAI was 58% lower among those assigned to ICU rooms with objects made from antimicrobial copper.

Speaking on the significance of the new paper, Professor Tom Elliott, leader of the UK clinical trial, says: "At University Hospital Birmingham, our copper study group demonstrated that copper reduces environmental microbial contamination in a clinical setting.  The more recent findings of Salgado and colleagues demonstrate that the antimicrobial effect of copper also reduces the likelihood of patients acquiring certain types of infection in hospital.  These findings could have important implications in our fight against infection, utilising the currently-unharnessed potential of this remarkable antimicrobial metal."

The US research has proved so successful that an interdisciplinary team from the University of California, Los Angeles began replicating the research in July 2012.  The team is testing ICUs with antimicrobial copper at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

On the strength of accumulated research, hospitals around the world are installing antimicrobial copper touch surfaces to help reduce the incidence of HCAIs.  Hundreds of antimicrobial copper healthcare-related products are available, including IV drip poles, dressings trolleys, over-bed tables and door hardware.

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  1. Report on the Burden of Endemic Health Care-Associated Infection Worldwide
    World Health Organization, 2011
  2. Copper Surfaces Reduce the Rate of Healthcare-Acquired Infections in the Intensive Care Unit
    Cassandra D Salgado, Kent A Sepkowitz, Joseph F John, J Robert Cantey,
    Hubert H Attaway, Katherine D Freeman, Peter A Sharpe, Harold T Michels,
    Michael G Schmidt
    Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, May 2013, Vol 34, No 5
  3. Sustained Reduction of Microbial Burden on Common Hospital Surfaces through Introduction of Copper
    Michael G Schmidt, Hubert H Attaway, Peter A Sharpe, Joseph John Jr, Kent A Sepkowitz, Andrew Morgan, Sarah E Fairey, Susan Singh, Lisa L Steed, J Robert Cantey, Katherine D Freeman, Harold T Michels and Cassandra D Salgado
    Journal of Clinical Microbiology, July 2012, Vol 50, No 7

For further information, or high-resolution images, contact:

Bryony Samuel
Communications Officer
Copper Development Association
5 Grovelands Business Centre
Boundary Way
Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP2 7TE

Tel: 01442 275705, Fax: 01442 275716
Websites: and

Contacts for interviews with cited authors:

Professor Tom Elliott
Leader of the UK clinical trial of antimicrobial copper in a hospital environment

Consultant Microbiologist / Deputy Medical Director
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust

Contact: Gareth Duggan
Media Communications Manager
Tel: 01213 714223

Professor Bill Keevil
Lead researcher of copper's antimicrobial efficacy and mechanism of action

Chair in Environmental Healthcare
University of Southampton

Contact: Glenn Harris
Media Relations Officer
Tel: 02380 593212

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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