Self-disinfecting surfaces in the fight against infection

Aston's study found that surfaces containing copper kill a wide range of potentially harmful micro-organisms, including the superbug MRSA, which could have significant implications for the battle to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals.

Antimicrobial copper surfaces

Within the EU, over 4 million patients contract a hospital acquired infection each year, which accounts for an estimated 37,000 deaths while costing the NHS alone over £1 billion annually. In the USA, about five percent of patients admitted to hospital acquire infections from the hospital, adding $45 billion to the annual cost of healthcare. The one-off cost of installing antimicrobial copper surfaces provides continuous microbial contamination reduction throughout the lifetime of the surface.

Laboratory testing carried out by Dr Tony Worthington, Professor Anthony Hilton and Professor Peter Lambert at Aston University revealed a much higher number of common pathogens were significantly reduced by copper than other materials. MRSA, for example, was killed within one hour.

Aston was involved in the first clinical trial of the antimicrobial effects of copper surfaces, carried out on a general medical ward at Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital.

At Selly Oak, a range of products such as grab rails, door handles, light switches, taps, over-bed tables and toilet seats, were replaced with copper surfaces. The results showed that with normal cleaning, the copper surfaces were found to have up to 90% fewer organisms on them than items made from other materials such as stainless steel. While other agents such as chlorine and hydrogen peroxide have had similar short-term effects, copper has the longest lasting impact.

Aston’s research has now led to further clinical trials to confirm copper’s antimicrobial action. Trials in Japan, Chile and the USA have been reported, confirming Aston’s findings from the Selly Oak trial, and more are under way in France and Greece. The latest clinical trial data from the USA shows that patients in intensive care unit rooms fitted with antimicrobial copper surfaces have a > 40% lower risk of acquiring a healthcare associated infection than those in control rooms without copper.

Copper and copper alloy touch surfaces have now been installed in hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world.