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Copper Kills Microbes and Bacteria; Coming Soon To Hospitals

By dsorbello at June 27, 2010, 9:37 a.m., 11287 hits

The Phoenicians stored their water in it to keep it pure; perhaps we should too.

Hospitals are dangerous places; patients can pick up serious infections that are getting harder and harder to fight. According to the New York Times, they contribute to as many as 100,000 deaths per year. Hospital staff try and fight them with constant cleaning and hand washing, and consume huge amounts of antibiotics to treat them. But there might be a simple and effective design solution: Copper.

It appears that bacteria don't like the stuff; according to the Copper Development Association's Antimicrobial Copper Website, copper can continuously kill more than 99.9% of the bacteria that cause infections within two hours of contact.

They are proposing that door handles, plumbing, just about everything metal be made of copper. (needless to say, as copper promoters, they think it would be a good idea for shopping carts and ATMs as well)

The Bacteria on copper drops off rapidly. Image credit: Copper Development Association

“It is a simple, elegant solution,” said Michael Schmidt, a professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, in the Globe and Mail.

He led a study where copper was installed for covered the bed rails, tray tables, call buttons, IV poles and chair arms.

When the researchers took culture swabs from the copper surfaces, they found the level of microbes had “dropped well below what is considered to be a risk,” Dr. Schmidt said. “And it doesn’t need any intervention other than normal cleaning.”

How does it work? Dr. Schmitt told the Globe that copper’s killing power is related to the fact that the metal is a tremendous conductor of electricity. “What I think is probably happening is that microbes are literally short-circuiting.” The Copper Development Association gives more detail.

While mining copper is a messy business, and we have even noted that we might be approaching peak copper, the metal is easily recycled and almost never thrown away. Our hospitals might soon have a lovely glowing steampunk look if they start making everything out of it.

More on copper alloys in Core77

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