Does copper have a place in lowering the risk for hospital-acquired infections (HAIs)? Two recent studies suggest that it might.

Schmidt MG et al compared the bacterial burden on copper-covered and standard plastic bedrails in an intensive care unit (ICU) over three months (Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2013;34:530-533). The mean bacterial burden as sampled just before room cleaning was significantly lower for copper-covered bedrails than standard ones: 698 versus 6,102 colony-forming units (cfu) per 100 cm2.

Salgado CD et al performed a randomized controlled trial in the ICUs of three hospitals to assess acquisition of HAIs and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE; Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2013;34:479-486). In the study, 614 patients were randomly placed in rooms with or without copper alloy surfaces on objects such as bedrails and chair arms. The rate of HAI and/or MRSA or VRE colonization in ICU rooms with copper alloy surfaces was significantly lower than in standard ICU rooms (0.071 vs. 0.123; P=0.020).

“There have been papers about the use of copper in a variety of ways,” said Susan S. Huang, MD, MPH, an associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Health Policy Research Institute, University of California Irvine School of Medicine, who was not an author of either study. “To determine whether a type of surface can reduce infections, you’d need a large number of hospitals and certainty that other prevention activities were not changing. Definitive evidence is still pending.”