No one expects to leave a healthcare facility worse off than they entered, but that is the problem many patients face today. The rise and spread of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) is a serious threat to both patient safety and the effectiveness of the healthcare system.
The use of antimicrobial copper touch surfaces, which has been pioneered by the Copper Development Association (CDA) through the aid of a grant by the Department of Defense, looks to revolutionize the world of healthcare design by taking a preventative approach to bacteria and HAIs, instead of a controlled one.
Antimicrobial copper refers to solid, copper-based metals like brass and bronze. Antimicrobial Copper has the inherent ability to kill bacteria, which provides an added level of defense against infectious diseases in healthcare facilities. Deadly bacteria such as MRSA, VRE and E.coli are a serious threat to patient safety. While Antimicrobial Copper products do not remove the need for standard infection control procedures, they provide a critical and much needed added line of protection against the 2 million HAIs that plague the American populace each year. In fact, preliminary results of a recent study indicate a 41 percent decrease in HAIs in Intensive Care Units which have been outfitted with Antimicrobial Copper.
Almost 100,000 people die annually in U.S. hospitals from HAIs. They are one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services; yet HAIs command nowhere near the level of public attention that they should for such a serious threat.
HAIs take a huge toll not just on patient health, but on the fiscal soundness of our nation's healthcare system and facilities. According to the CDC, it is estimated that the annual direct medical costs of HAIs to hospitals is as high as $45 billion.
With the U.S. government cracking down on healthcare systems that put a strain on federally funded programs, hospitals will now be penalized for Medicare patients who are readmitted soon after discharge. More than 2,000 U.S. hospitals are affected under the new law.
A recent study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology (ICHE) found that patients with positive clinical cultures of MRSA, VRE or C. difficile were 60 percent more likely to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days than patients without. Stopping HAIs is a priority for the federal government, and those facilities that do not keep up face millions in fines moving forward.
The high costs associated with HAIs, both to patients and healthcare facilities, are not a fact of life but rather a regrettable situation in need of solutions beyond antibacterial soap. Healthcare executives now have a new weapon to fight bacteria: antimicrobial copper.
Because of its antimicrobial properties, researchers tested copper's effectiveness against HAIs by conducting a clinical trial at three U.S. medical centers. Copper bed rails, tray tables, chair arms, call buttons, monitors and IV poles replaced the stainless steel and plastic versions in ICU rooms at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, both in Charleston, SC.
The results, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, revealed that antimicrobial copper surfaces harbored 83 percent less bacteria than plastic, stainless steel or wood surfaces, including deadly pathogens such as MRSA, VRE and E. coli.
Independent and EPA-approved laboratory testing has also demonstrated that when cleaned regularly, antimicrobial copper products kill greater than 99.9 percent of the following bacteria within two hours of exposure: MRSA, VRE, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7.
Reducing Bacterial Levels
Recently, a Ronald McDonald House in Charleston, S. C. retrofitted its facility with copper touch surfaces because it continuously kills bacteria within two-hours of exposure, and doesn't require additional maintenance or special cleaning to remain effective. Having an added defense against deadly bacteria is critically important for the already sick children who stay in Ronald McDonald Houses while they seek medical treatments for serious illnesses. With immune systems that are already compromised, living in the facility for extended periods of time with multiple families creates a greater possibility of being exposed to new illnesses and bacteria.
The facility's stair railings, sinks, faucets, bathroom vanities, grab rails, cabinet pulls, locksets, tabletops and chair arms now all sport antimicrobial copper. The Medical University of South Carolina recorded bacteria levels in the Ronald McDonald House before and after the copper products were installed. What they found was that the antimicrobial copper surfaces reduced bacterial levels from the non-copper surface products by more than 90 percent on average. This was done without any change in the regular cleaning and infection control practices by the staff.
Healthcare facilities seeking new approaches to combat bacteria are beginning to take note of the inherent benefits of copper. Manufacturers of sinks, hardware and medical equipment are beginning to add antimicrobial lines to their product mix. Copper is always working, never wears out and is safe to use. By investing in antimicrobial copper touch surfaces, healthcare facilities can keep bacteria levels low and help reduce the risk of contracting infections, all the while having the potential to generating significant cost savings for hospitals.
PHOTO 1: The sinks, faucets and cabinet hardware throughout the Ronald McDonald House in Charleston, S.C., feature antimicrobial copper. These surfaces were installed at the facility because copper has been proven to kill bacteria and reduce infections. PHOTO/COURTESY South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA)
PHOTO 2: The dining area at the Ronald McDonald House in Charleston, S.C. features copper tabletops. The facility chose to retrofit its touch surfaces with copper because it continuously kills bacteria within two-hours of exposure, and doesn't require additional maintenance or special cleaning to remain effective. PHOTO/COURTESY South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA)
Dr. Michels is the senior VP of Technology and Technical Services for the Copper Development Association Inc.. For more information about EPA approved public health claims, the clinical trials or where to find products, visit www.antimicrobialcopper.com.