May 23, 2013

Copper Health Benefits Drawing More Attention

The use of copper with its antimicrobial effects is getting more mainstream attention by medical device manufacturers and hospital facilities.  While the use of copper and other metals has been touted since the 1850s (physician Paracelsus, Germany) as an anti-inflammatory agent and general promoter of good health, and more recently attributed to reducing arthritis pain, universities and other institutions have conducted scientific studies to understand and measure the benefits of copper.  The metal destroys bacteria by coaxing the organism to donate electrons to it, resulting in the production of free radicals within the cell. The result is damage to bacterial DNA and cell proteins.

Laboratory studies have demonstrated copper’s broad spectrum antimicrobial efficacy at room temperature and humidity against bacteria (MRSA), fungi (Aspergillus niger) and viruses (including Influenza A (H1N1)). Following a review of such detailed scientific data, copper was officially recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency and is now registered to make public health claims.

Why the recent interest?  In the United States, 4.5% of hospitalized patients develop hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), resulting in an estimated 100,000 deaths and adding $35.7–$45 billion to healthcare costs.  Patients with HAI also have longer lengths of stay (21.6 vs 4.9 days), higher readmission rates within 30 days (29.8% vs 6.2%), and greater mortality (9.4% vs 1.8%).

The use of antimicrobial copper on surfaces such as bed railings and door handles in hospital settings can reduce the number of HAIs by 58%, according to Chicago Journals . In contrast to the traditional cleaning procedures used within hospitals, the antibacterial effect of copper surfaces is permanent and not prone to antibiotic resistance.
So, look for more visible future applications utilizing copper’s anti-bacterial properties, including current uses as a water purifier, fungicide, and antifouling agent.

The author is with The CECON Group, Inc., which has been providing  technical experts and metallurgical experts to the medical device and health care communities since 1985.