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Hospital Infections May Be Stemmed By Copper Fittings: Study

According to the findings of a new study, the use of copper pipes and fittings could help reduce the transmission of hospital-acquired infections. 

Researchers from Grinnell College in Iowa indicate that when using copper handles and other fittings are used in place of those usually found in hospitals, the amount of bacteria found on those surfaces was reduced by 98%. The findings were published late last month in the American Journal of Infection Control.

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

In the study, researchers outfitted half of the patient rooms in a rural, 49-bed facility with copper alloy materials. In the other rooms, they left traditional porcelain, metal, and plastic surfaces. They then swabbed those surfaces for a year, testing them for bacteria.

According to the findings, swabs from components made of copper alloys had 98% less bacteria than swabs from other non-copper alloy surfaces.

“Components fabricated using copper alloys were found to have significantly lower concentrations of bacteria, at or below levels prescribed, upon completion of terminal cleaning,” the researchers reported. “Copper alloys can significantly decrease the burden harbored on high-touch surfaces, and thus warrant inclusion in an integrated infection control strategy for rural hospitals.”

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.

Despite the seemingly high numbers, the CDC says that health care and infection prevention are moving in the right direction.

From 1990 through 2002, there were 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections per year, suggesting the rate of hospital acquired infections dropped by more than half in about a decade. During the 1970s, that number was at about 2.1 million annual hospital infections.

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