We tend to think of hospitals as the place to cure illness and infection, not the place where infections are acquired. Unfortunately, getting sick from germs in the hospitals we visit is common enough that it has a name: nosocomial infection.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to help stop the spread of bacteria and viruses in hospitals: copper coatings on surfaces.
Hospital-acquired infections in Canada afflicted 7.9 percent of patients in 2017, according to a study done in 2019. In the United States, the rates are about 1 in 25 patients. The numbers are significant enough that efforts are being made to address the issue.
The problem isn’t just old hospitals, either. One study looked at bacteria rates in a brand new hospital’s first year of operation. They found significant amounts of bacteria in all areas, with especially high amounts on bed rails. The implication is that bed rails pick up bacteria during one patient's visit, and unless the area is thoroughly sterilized, hold bacteria until the next patient arrives, and so on.
In a different study, scientists found copper coatings on bed rails to significantly limit surface bacteria both before and after cleaning.
Plastic hospital beds have been found to contain bacteria rates above the recommended limit, even after cleaning. Beds with copper surfaces, however, maintained levels below the amount considered likely to increase hospital-acquired infections.
It was also found that beds with copper alloy surfaces were able to suppress bacteria and virus levels for the duration of the patient’s stay.
In Collingwood, Ontario, one hospital has embraced copper, along with UV lights and other germ-killing measures, to create a self-sanitizing hospital room.
IV poles are frequently touched and relocated by hospital staff, thereby housing bacteria and viruses. The poles are ideal candidates for a copper coating, such as Coptek’s adhesive copper covers.
The poles are easy to apply the cover to, and the high-touch nature makes copper a sensible choice for reducing the spread of infection. In Germany, Hagen General Hospital has installed copper IV poles, along with other copper surfaces, to effectively reduce microbial contamination.
Toilets are home to many bacteria and risk transmission in common-use or public bathrooms. For this reason, Collingwood General and Marine Hospital installed copper-infused seats on all toilets in public bathrooms and in-patient bathrooms.
A company in England makes copper taps intended for use in healthcare facilities, which are designed to counteract improper hand washing techniques by killing germs on the fixtures. It’s an effective approach, as a hospital participating in a UK study found that copper reduced microbial contamination by more than 90%.
Desks and keyboards
Hospital surfaces may be where bacteria reside, but it’s people who bring the microbes into the hospital and move them around by touching various surfaces. In an effort to limit the amount of microbes doctors and nurses spread, a hospital in Finland installed copper desktops and keyboards in an emergency ward. The choice to replace these surfaces with copper and copper alloys was made after considering which surfaces in the emergency unit were touched most often. Other surfaces in the hospital that received copper treatment included door handles, grab rails, and toilet seats.
Grab rails, or grab bars, are commonly placed beside toilets and in showers or bathtub enclosures for people to hold onto as an aid in sitting or standing. Like other bathroom surfaces, they are host to viruses and bacteria. And, like other solid surfaces, they are an ideal candidate for copper coverings, as they are considered a high-touch item with the potential to spread infection.
Grinnell Regional Medical Center in the United States installed copper grab bars in their bathrooms, along with other copper items, and then conducted a study of the results. They found a significant reduction in bacteria rates.
Push panels and door surfaces in hospitals are additional prime locations for placing copper panels or covers, considering the number of people using these doorways, especially in hallway and entrance areas. In many hospitals exploring the uses of copper, door handles and panels were often included in the retrofit. Due to their large, flat surfaces, doors are among the easiest locations to retrofit with copper coverings. And considering their frequent use and thus potential for spreading infection, it can be a highly effective method of reducing microbial spread.
Copper is cost-effective
Despite the evidence, hospitals have been slow to adopt copper covering on high-touch surfaces. It could be that cost is a perceived factor, but installing copper coverings or fittings can pay for itself in savings from infection-related costs.
Want to know more? Reach out to Coptek today.