Recent clinical tests demonstrate that antimicrobial copper is effective in significantly reducing the bacterial load in intensive care unit (ICU) patient rooms and on many individual objects in those rooms. Results from a U.S. Department of Defense-funded clinical trial assessing the ability of antimicrobial copper to reduce the amount of bacteria on surfaces commonly found in hospital rooms were reported on at the Fifth Decennial International Conference on Healthcare-Associated Infections in Atlanta, GA.
Exposure to organisms that were found in ICU rooms may lead to healthcare-acquired infections that can result in illness and death. Michael Schmidt, Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, and an author of the poster, said, "It is well known that hospital-acquired infections have a high cost, both in terms money spent treating them and lives lost. One in twenty hospital patients will develop a hospital-acquired infection; that number increases to thirty percent for patients in intensive care units."
The first phase of this study showed that the most heavily contaminated objects are those in closest proximity to the patients. High levels of Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) were found on common objects, such as bed rails, call buttons and visitor chairs. Because these bacteria can survive for extended periods of time, contaminated surfaces can act as a means for spreading bacteria to patients, visitors and healthcare workers.
In the second phase of the trial, copper bed rails, tray tables, chair arms, call buttons, monitors and IV poles replaced the stainless steel and plastic versions in ICU rooms of three hospitals: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, both in Charleston, SC.
The phase two trial results were very positive. Copper was effective in significantly reducing the total bacterial load in ICU patient care rooms and on many individual objects within those rooms. Further study is needed to assess whether copper touch surfaces can play a role in preventing cross contamination and the transmission of hospital-acquired infections.
Laboratory testing independent of the clinical trial has proven that copper and copper alloys, such as brass and bronze, kill 99.9 percent of bacteria within two hours, when cleaned regularly and as a supplement to routine cleaning and disinfection programs. These findings led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to register these materials as public health antimicrobial products that can control vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7, all of which are associated with infections or other adverse effects in humans.
The clinical trial is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense under the aegis of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technologies Research Center (TATRC), a section of the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC).