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Hospital Infection Risk Reduced With Copper Beds in ICU: Study

New research suggests the risk of hospital-acquired infections may be reduced if copper is used, instead of plastic, in hospital bed railings and other surfaces.

In a study published this month in the medical journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina found that, even with regular cleaning, the surfaces of plastic bed fittings retained levels of bacteria that pose a serious infection risk. However, with copper hospital beds, just the opposite occurs, as the metal is self-disinfecting.

Copper alloys are known to have antimicrobial properties, which can help kill bacteria and prevent it from spreading from person-to-person. Previous studies have found  the majority of bacteria which ends up on a copper surface dies within about two hours, the researchers reported.

In the latest study, researchers looked at five high touch bed surfaces encountered by patients, healthcare workers and visitors in intensive care units. They replaced some with antimicrobial copper materials and monitored them by taking routine cultures.

According to the findings, the plastic surfaces exceeded recommended bacterial concentrations of 2.5 aerobic colony forming units per centimeter squared, even after terminal cleaning & disinfection (TC&D). However, beds with self-disinfecting copper surfaces were found to consistently carry fewer bacteria; below the levels considered to increase the risk of healthcare acquired infections (HAI).

The copper bed fittings appeared to reduce the amount of bacteria on surfaces by 94%, the researchers determined.

“Beds encapsulated with US-EPA registered antimicrobial copper materials were found to sustain the TC&D risk threshold levels throughout the patients’ stay, suggesting that outfitting acute-care beds with such materials may be an important supplement to controlling the concentration of infectious agents, and thereby potentially reduce the overall HAI risk,” the researchers concluded.

The findings are similar to those of a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control in 2016, which found that swabs from components used in a hospital which were made of copper alloys had 98% less bacteria than swabs from non-copper alloy surfaces.

In 2014, a study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that about 4% of patients are diagnosed with hospital-acquired infections. The agency found that while intensive care patients are often presumed to be the most vulnerable, more than half of those infections occurred outside of the intensive care unit.

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