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Disarming a silent killer

Copper surfaces take out superbugs

April 9, 2013

CHARLESTON – In the United States, health care-acquired infections (HAIs) result in 100,000 deaths annually, adding an estimated $45 billion dollars to health care costs. According to a new study published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, placement of copper surfaces in intensive care unit (ICU) hospital rooms reduced the amount of health care-acquired infections (HAIs) in patients by more than half. 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 the Medical University of South Carolina (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 HAI and/or colonization with MRSA 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. South Carolina Research Authority (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 nurses call buttons had copper surfaces. Both traditional patient rooms and rooms with copper surfaces at each institution were cleaned using the same practices.

Previous attempts to reduce HAIs have required healthcare worker engagement or use of systems such as ultraviolet light, which may be limited because of regrowth of organisms after the intervention. In contrast, copper alloy surfaces offer a passive way to reduce burden, without staff intervention or involvement with outside providers.

HAIs often contaminate items within hospital rooms, allowing bacteria to transfer from patient to patient. Common microbes include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE). While several strategies exist to decrease HAIs, no methods have been clinically proven to reduce the spread of these infections.


About MUSC
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 13,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit For more information on hospital patient services, visit class="MsoHyperlink"

About Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center

About SCRA

SCRA is an applied research corporation with over 30 years of experience delivering technology solutions with high returns on investment to federal and corporate clients. To fulfill our mission, SCRA has three sectors: Our Technology Ventures sector helps early-stage companies to commercialize innovations and create jobs, our Applied R&D sector manages over 100 national and international programs worth over $2 billion in contract value and our R&D Facilities sector builds and manages research facilities that include wet labs, secure rooms for sensitive work and advanced high-tech manufacturing shops. Multiple economic impact studies show SCRA’s cumulative output on South Carolina’s economy to be over $15.3 billion. For more information visit



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