Copper Fights Hospital Infections

10/29/2008 CHARLESTON, S.C. Three different people … one common story.

"I didn't understand how I could get an infection from the hospital because you go there to get healed and for them to help you," Jenna Edmondson said.

"It's very hard ... It's still very hard," Belinda Malone said.

These three individuals are part of the two million people in the United States that get hospital infections every year. One-hundred-thousand of them will die.

"Hospital-acquired infection is the dirty little secret of healthcare," Michael Schmidt, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Schmidt hopes to reduce infections with the something that's probably in your pocket.

"Copper is microbiocidal," he explained. "It's a metal and when the bacteria come in contact with it, they die."

No one's sure why copper kills, but studies show it destroys nearly all of infection-causing microbes.

"They are not coming back to life," Dr. Schmidt said. "They are dead and as they say, 'Dead microbes tell no tales.'"

In Dr. Schmidt's study, copper replaces plastic components in hospital rooms like bed rails, nurse call buttons, tray tables, keyboards and mice. Cassandra Salgado, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina, says copper will add another much-needed layer of protection.

"The thought of being able to reduce our infection rates by using something as simple as this is really, really exciting," Dr. Salgado said.

Not only will it save lives, but money too, Dr. Schmidt added. Currently, hospital infections cost the health care system $30 billion a year.

"We're looking for a 50-percent reduction and that's $15 billion," he said … Proof how a little change can go a long way.

Copper is currently being studied in three hospitals across the country. An additional study is underway to study how well copper reduces infections when it's used within hospital air-conditioning systems.

Michael Schmidt, PhD
Medical University of South Carolina


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