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The Catalyst

Copper surfaces in hospitals take out superbugs

In the United States, health care-acquired infections result in 100,000 deaths annually, adding an estimated $45 billion to health care costs.

Placement of copper surfaces in intensive care unit hospital rooms reduced the amount of HAIs in patients by more than half, according to a new study published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. The journal is supported by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

“Patients who suffer HAIs often stay in the hospital longer, incur greater costs and, unfortunately, suffer a greater likelihood of dying while hospitalized,” said Cassandra D. Salgado, M.D., associate professor of infectious disease at MUSC and lead author of the study. “Our study found that placement of items with copper surfaces into ICU rooms as an additional measure to routine infection control practices could reduce the risk of HAI as well as colonization with multidrug resistant microbes.”

In this study, funded by an appropriation from the U.S. Army Materiel Command, U.S. Department of Defense, the proportion of patients who developed HAIs or colonization with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or VRE was significantly lower among patients in rooms with copper surfaces. These patients also had about half the number of infections, compared to patients in traditional ICU rooms.

Researchers tested the capability of copper surfaces to reduce environmental contamination of these germs because copper has an inherent ability to continuously kill environmental microbes.

Performed from July 12, 2010 to June 14, 2011, the study operated out of three medical centers including MUSC, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. SCRA’s Applied R&D division managed the study for its duration.

Patients who were admitted to the ICU of these hospitals were randomly assigned to receive care in a traditional patient room or in a room where items such as bed rails, tables, IV poles and nurse call buttons had copper surfaces. Both types of rooms at each institution were cleaned using the same practices.

Previous attempts to reduce HAIs have required health care worker engagement or use of systems such as ultraviolet light, which may be limited because of regrowth of organisms after the intervention.

HAIs often contaminate items within hospital rooms, allowing bacteria to transfer from patient to patient. Common microbes include MRSA and vancomycin-resistant enterococcus.

While several strategies exist to decrease HAIs, no methods have been clinically proven to reduce the spread of these infections.

April 24, 2013

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