ICU infections plunge 60% with copper surfaces

Copper surfaces in intensive care unit hospital rooms reduced healthcare-acquired infections by more than half, according to a study published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

The results were surprising even to the researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Microbiologist Michael Schmidt, Ph.D., said he anticipated a 10 percent reduction in infections, but the study found infections were slashed by 60 percent, according to an announcement from MUSC.

Cleaning practices didn't change, but patients at three test hospitals were randomly assigned to ICU rooms with copper-coated bed rails, tables, IV poles and nurse call buttons over the 11-month test, according to the announcement.

The electrical conductivity of copper "literally steals the electricity inside the microbes, rendering them inactive," Schmidt said in the announcement. "They literally die because they run out of juice."

The study also found copper surfaces could reduce colonization of multidrug-resistant microbes, such as methicillin-resistant Staphy­lo­coc­cus aureus (MRSA), otherwise known as superbugs, said lead author Cassandra D. Salgado, M.D., associate professor of infectious disease.

Hospitals nationwide have stepped up their efforts against superbugs, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cause 100,000 deaths per year and $30 billion in annual medical costs, the Associated Press reported.

More than 100 U.S. hospitals have, for example, purchased or leased a portable machine from Texas-based Xenex Healthcare Services that kills bacteria and viruses with ultraviolet light. The machine is rolled into rooms to supplement regular cleaning, according to the article.

No national study has shown UV machines effective in killing bacteria, the CDC says, but officials at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Mass., told the AP that infection rates from Clostridium difficile fell by half over a two-year period and deaths dropped from 14 to two compared with the previous two years.

Specialized training of cleaning crews and use of enhanced disinfection methods also dramatically reduces the presence of C. diff in infected hospital rooms, according to a study published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.  

Fluorescent markers added to high-touch surfaces prior to cleaning prompted more thorough cleanings, the study found. Portable UV disinfection devices further reduced positive cultures, but crews did not clean as thoroughly. The best results came when a dedicated C. diff cleaning team cleaned high-touch surfaces with germicidal wipes, and recleaned if any cultures tested positive, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the AP article
- check out the C. diff study

To learn more:
Central-line infections drop, but teaching hospitals remain area of concern
Hospitals make headway in infection prevention
Monitoring, cleaning tech has little impact on quashing superbug spread
Hospital-acquired infections influence patients' hospital selection