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Date: 28 November 2023

Time: 15:21

Copper cuts contamination between cleans

Story posted/last updated: 29 November 2012

Results presented by a Birmingham research team at an international conference have confirmed that the use of copper on surfaces can improve hygiene in hospitals.

The research was led by Professor Tom Elliott at the recent 7th International Conference of the Hospital Infection Society in Liverpool, and showed antimicrobial copper touch surfaces improve environmental hygiene in clinical environments when used as a supplement to routine cleaning.

In an extension of an earlier study, a wide selection of standard touch surfaces were replaced with antimicrobial copper equivalents on a general medical ward at the old Selly Oak hospital.

The frequently-touched surfaces identified for substitution with copper-containing surfaces included door furniture, grab rails, trolleys, over-bed tables and taps.

During the six-month study, copper and equivalent control items were sampled once a week for 24 weeks, at least 90 minutes after the morning’s routine cleaning and ahead of the evening cleaning. The levels of microbiological contamination were then compared between the copper and standard surfaces.

The results showed that the highest contamination was found in the patient bathrooms, particularly on the chrome-plated toilet flush lever handles and tap handles, and on the plastic light pulls and toilet seats.

Copper-containing items, including door push plates, door pull handles, tap handles, toilet flush lever handles, patient over-bed tables, dressing trolleys, socket switches and light pull cord toggles were found to have significantly fewer micro organisms on their surfaces than the controls, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci, meticillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus and coliform bacteria were recovered less frequently from these.

Contaminated surfaces act as reservoirs of clinical micro organisms, which can be transferred to the hands of staff, patients and visitors. This study shows that, despite routine cleaning, surfaces in the clinical environment may become contaminated with pathogenic micro organisms. Microbial load, including the presence of micro organisms responsible for healthcare-associated infections, was shown to be significantly reduced between cleans on the majority of the copper surfaces, compared to standard surfaces.

The researchers, led by Professor Tom Elliott, Consultant Microbiologist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, concluded that the use of copper, in combination with optimal infection prevention strategies, may further reduce the risk of patients acquiring infections in hospitals and other healthcare environments.

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