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Copper Shown to Lower Infections in ICUs

MUSC-led Study of Copper in ICUs Shows Lower Infection Rates

Through a three-hospital study led by Michael G. Schmidt, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Medicine, researchers have documented that the placement of copper on objects in intensive care units (ICUs) reduced hospital-acquired infections (HAI) by more than half. The results were published in the May 2013 issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Cassandra D. Salgado, M.D., MS, Professor of Medicine at MUSC, was the lead author of the study.

The research operated out of three medical centers: MUSC, the Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Traditional ICU rooms were compared with ICU rooms in which bed rails, tables, IV poles, and nurses’ call buttons were covered in copper. Both kinds of rooms were cleaned using the same practices.

Microbes often contaminate items within hospital rooms and may be easily transferred among patients and the health care team. While several strategies exist to decrease HAI, until the study completed by Dr. Schmidt and colleagues, methods demonstrating the clinical effectiveness of such interventions had yet to be proven to reduce the spread of these infections.

“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 multi-drug-resistant microbes,” says Dr. Salgado.

Copper has the inherent ability to continuously kill environmental microbes, says Dr. Schmidt. “Copper steals the electricity inside microbes, rendering them inactive.”

In its continuing efforts to ensure patient safety, MUSC will explore the implementation of more copper surfaces in patient rooms and begin testing other items, such as copper stethoscopes. (For the full multimedia package, visit MUSC’s News Center).