Tag Archives: germ

“Copper kills everything”: A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

As modern medicine can be quite paradoxical sometimes, checking into a hospital can actually boost your chances of an infection; and if you’re thinking that this only happens in poorer, underdeveloped countries – you’re wrong. No matter where you check in at a hospital, you are vulnerable to infections which have nothing to do with your original problem. Now, a team from Chile studying this issue believe they have found a solution for this problem: copper.

A copper bedrail can kill germs on contact.
Courtesy of CopperBioHealth

The World Health Organization estimates that “each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world are affected” by healthcare-acquired infections. These are called healthcare-acquired infections, healthcare-associated infections or hospital-acquired infections. Most of them can be very dangerous, and there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between how well the hospital is equipped and how likely you are to get an infection. However, in developing countries, the rate of hospital infection seems to be higher.

The source of these infections can come as quite a surprise – Constanza Correa, a Chilean researcher and her team found that bed safety railings are major source of infections. They replaced the railings with copper ones, and the effect was immediate and visible.

“Bacteria, yeasts and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process,” wrote the authors of an article on copper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. That knowledge has been around a very long time. The journal article cites an Egyptian medical text, written around 2600-2000 B.C., that cites the use of copper to sterilize chest wounds and drinking water.

Indeed, this is called the “Oligodynamic effect” – many metals have a strong antimicrobial effect, being toxic not only for microbes, but also for algae, molds, spores, fungi, prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, even in relatively low concentrations. Most heavy metals exhibit this effect, but also silver, iron, and of course, copper. Silver and copper actually have the strongest antimicrobial effect.

Correa and her team hasn’t yet assessed the entire impact that bed railings can have, but a study of the effects of copper-alloy surfaces in U.S. hospitals’ intensive care units, published last year in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, showed promising results: Their presence reduced the number of healthcare-acquired infections from 8.1 percent in regular rooms to 3.4 percent in the copper rooms. That’s a reduction of almost 60 percent.

“Healthcare-acquired infections are a huge problem. People come to the hospital with a sickness, and they get another one in the hospital. Then they have to stay longer and spend more money on treatment. Sometimes it can cause death. Eighty percent of these infections come from touching hospital surfaces. In the hospital room, the most contaminated surface is the bed rail. It’s the most manipulated by medical staff and patients. It’s in direct contact with the patient. That’s the most critical surface in the room”, Correa said in an interview published on NPR.

 

“Copper kills everything”, she says, so why not use it more in hospitals? There is a huge number of ways in which you can use it. You can have copper IV poles, feeding tables, night tables, even mattress covers (a copper additive).

“Copper kills everything. Why wouldn’t you use it? It has so much sense for people.”

Germ antibiotic resistance ‘as big a risk as terrorism’

With the continuous advancements in medicine, it’s easy to forget that not only are we adapting to new species of germs, but they are adapting to our medicine as well – sometimes even much faster than us. The danger posed by growing resistance to antibiotics should be ranked along with terrorism, the government’s chief medical officer for England has said.

viruses

It is a “ticking time bomb”, Professor Dame Sally Davies explains. If we lose the ability to fight infection, something as simple as a common surgery could pose a deadly peril in as little as 20 years.

“If we don’t take action, then we may all be back in an almost 19th Century environment where infections kill us as a result of routine operations. We won’t be able to do a lot of our cancer treatments or organ transplants.”

She plants a big part of the blame on big pharmaceutical companies, which haven’t really developed any new antibiotics in the past 2 decades, simply because it isn’t profitable – other types of drugs bring way bigger profits.

“We haven’t had a new class of antibiotics since the late 80s and there are very few antibiotics in the pipeline of the big pharmaceutical companies that develop and make drugs,” she said.

But me, you, and the society are just as much to blame.

“We haven’t as a society globally incentivised making antibiotics. It’s quite simple – if they make something to treat high blood pressure or diabetes and it works, we will use it on our patients everyday. “Whereas antibiotics will only be used for a week or two when they’re needed, and then they have a limited life span because of resistance developing anyway.”

antibiotics

People often take antibiotics without actually needing them. What happens is, you’re sick, you take antibiotics, you wipe all of them, or, the more dangerous possibility, most of them; next time you’ll be taking the same drug, the germs will be better prepared to face it and will improve. In 2008 her predecessor, Liam Donaldson, urged doctors not to use antibiotics to treat colds and cough – something which hasn’t really had any big effect.

The problem is, bacteria is continually adapting to medicine, and frankly, lately, we haven’t been adapting to bacteria so well. Death rates for infectious diseases have declined in developed countries in recent decades due to improvements in hygiene and sanitation, widespread immunisation and effective drug treatments, but the rate at which they are declining is dropping, and researchers fear a turn.

Yes, there is a possibility we will start losing the war with microbes – a possibility that has never before been so disturbing. Politicians are ignoring the issue, big pharma are ignoring the issue, society is ignoring the issue – and if things continue in this way, the perspective is quite dire.

A five-year UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy will be published shortly which will advocate the responsible use of antibiotics and strengthened surveillance, but no country has adapted a similar measure. Hopefully, the UK will only spearhead this fight, because it has to be a global effort from all parties involved (including us) to actually be effective.