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Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) take the lives of more than 100,000 Americans per year.  A new study suggests hospital beds fabricated with copper in intensive care units (ICU) can reduce the risk of infection of critically ill hospitalized patients.

Among the many contaminated surfaces in a hospital setting, beds are the worst.  Of hospital beds, Dr. Michael Schmidt, the co-author of a new study published in Applied and Environment Microbiology said, “Despite the best efforts by environmental services workers, [beds] are neither cleaned often enough, nor well enough.”

Researchers note that beds are considered high risk for transmission of infection and are “among the most touched and heavily microbially burdened objects” in patient rooms.  While the hand hygiene protocol promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) advises that caregivers wash hands prior to touching patient surroundings, WHO does not offer specific caution about bacterial colonies living on and in the plastic and other parts of a standard ICU hospital bed.

So where does copper come into the picture?

The antimicrobial properties of copper are known.  In early history, water was stored in copper vessels, potentially to take advantage of the germ-killing qualities of copper. Copper metal surfaces interrupt bacterial respiration and kill bacterial DNA strands known as plasmids that often bestow antibiotic resistance.

In this study, antimicrobial copper metal was applied to 100 percent of patient bed surfaces in a hospital ICU for 23 months. Both copper and conventional beds were part of the study, and both were routinely sanitized as per the existing hospital protocol. In their findings, study authors determined that 89 percent of microbial samples taken from the plastic rails of convention hospital beds were dangerously contaminated (meaning they exceeded levels of bacteria considered safe).

In the alternative, the ICU beds clad with antimicrobial copper hosted approximately 95 percent fewer bacteria than the conventional beds in the study.

Dr. Schmidt adds, “[t]he findings indicate that antimicrobial copper beds can assist infection control practitioners in their quest to keep healthcare surfaces hygienic between regular cleanings, thereby reducing the potential risk of transmitting bacteria associated with healthcare associated infections.”

The study offers strong findings about the contaminated setting that greets each critically ill patient even after their bed has been sanitized.  Greater research into the use of materials like copper could lighten the load for any patient or visitor in a hospital setting.

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