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.”