New research from two French hospitals confirms the contribution antimicrobial copper touch surfaces can make to infection prevention, with results announced at the 25th Congress of the French Society for Hospital Hygiene.
Rambouillet Hospital, near Paris, reported a reduction in the acquisition of multi-drug resistant bacteria in intensive care unit patients after the introduction of antimicrobial copper surfaces. Amiens University Hospital, in northern France, observed bacterial levels were significantly lower in its neonatal unit when fitted with antimicrobial copper.
Copper is inherently antimicrobial, and shares this benefit with many copper alloys including brass and bronze. Collectively termed 'antimicrobial copper', this family of metals is used to make touch surfaces that will not harbour pathogens that cause infections, actively killing them 24/7 and in-between regular cleans.
The two facilities were fitted with surfaces made from solid antimicrobial copper - including door handles, light switches, taps and hand rails - to assess copper's impact on infection control when used in conjunction with key measures such as regular hand washing and surface cleaning and disinfection.
According to the World Health Organisation, healthcare-associated infections killed 37,000 people in 2011 and contributed to a further 110,000 deaths in Europe. The direct healthcare cost - arising from additional treatment and days in hospital - amounts to 7 billion Euros a year.
Dr Patrick Pina, head of operational hygiene at Rambouillet and the study's leader, said: “We are facing a global epidemic of multi-drug resistant bacteria, which are responsible for increasingly hard-to-treat nosocomial infections. The promising results obtained at Rambouillet advocate the use of copper in combination with already-proven measures, such as alcohol hand sanitiser. We stand by copper as a valuable counter to the spread of resistant bacteria. We must continue in this direction and intensify our research.”
Starting in 2011, the trial at Rambouillet was the first in France to confirm findings from the UK, US and other countries: antimicrobial copper surfaces harbour >80% less bacteria than non-copper equivalents. Furthermore, according to the newly-released results, fewer ICU patients acquired drug-resistant infections after the installation of antimicrobial copper surfaces (compared to 2010 figures, prior to the installation).
In parallel, studies conducted at Amiens found antimicrobial copper door handles installed in areas where the spread of infection was a particular concern - consultation rooms, toilets, paediatrics, intensive care and resuscitation rooms - were significantly less contaminated than stainless steel equivalents.
These results were announced alongside the launch of a new trial, to be conducted in five nursing homes across Champagne-Ardenne in north-eastern France. In the largest study of its kind, a total of 1000 door handles and 1000 metres of hand rail will be replaced with solid antimicrobial copper items. Lasting up to three years and involving 600 residents (with 300 copper and 300 control rooms) the study will measure copper's ability to reduce infection rates in nursing home residents. It will be guided by a scientific committee composed of physicians and infection specialists, with funding from across the region as well as the European Union.
Dr Vincent Stoeckel, the scientific committee's main driver, said: “According to the World Health Organisation, we are heading towards a post-antibiotic era, where common infections could become increasingly dangerous to at-risk populations, such as the sick or elderly. Copper is a proven solution, and if this experiment gives positive results, it could pave the way for a significant advance in the fight against bacteria in health facilities.”