In the age of Ebola and superbugs, interest grows in copper as infection prevention

Copper's potential as a safeguard against hospital-acquired infections is generating renewed interest as hospitals work to avoid deadly superbugs or potential outbreaks of infectious diseases such as Ebola, the Washington Post reports.

Copper surfaces in hospitals have long been discussed as a potential method of reducing the risk of infection, with one study finding they cut infections by more than half in intensive care units (ICUs). Copper's conductive properties mean its interaction with oxygen kills or neutralizes a number of pathogens; while the ICU study is the only clinical research on copper's relationship with hospital infection control, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pressing for further study, according to the article.

Nationwide, at least 15 providers have added or plan to add copper elements to high-touch, easily contaminated areas such as faucet and cabinet handles, toilet levers, IV poles and call buttons, according to the Post. These efforts are even more of a priority in the wake of the death of Thomas Eric Duncan from Ebola last year, and the resulting infection of two of his nurses due to insufficient protections. And even with the Ebola scare now in the past in U.S. hospital settings, there continues to be risk of numerous other infections, such as MRSA and C. diff.

Thus far, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Goodyear, Arizona, has taken advantage of copper to install antimicrobial outlet covers, towel racks, grab bars, drawer handles and light switches in 14 bathrooms, according to the Arizona Republic. With an already immunocompromised patient population, the hospital--which maintains numerous other infection-control measures already--saw the copper installations as a worthwhile extra measure, according to Megan Crosser, the hospital's infection prevention and control practitioner.

"[Copper] is just one aspect of the many different measures we use here to try and protect our patients from getting an infection," she said. "The risk of infection here is extremely low, specifically the transmission of infection between people."

To learn more:
- read the Post article
- check out the Republic article