The environment may act as a reservoir for pathogens that cause healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs). Approaches to reducing environmental microbial contamination in addition to cleaning are thus worthy of consideration. Copper is well recognised as having antimicrobial activity but this property has not been applied to the clinical setting. We explored its use in a novel cross-over study on an acute medical ward. A toilet seat, set of tap handles and a ward entrance door push plate each containing copper were sampled for the presence of micro-organisms and compared to equivalent standard, non-copper-containing items on the same ward. Items were sampled once weekly for 10 weeks at 07:00 and 17:00. After five weeks, the copper-containing and non-copper-containing items were interchanged. The total aerobic microbial counts per cm(2) including the presence of 'indicator micro-organisms' were determined. Median numbers of microorganisms harboured by the copper-containing items were between 90% and 100% lower than their control equivalents at both 07:00 and 17:00. This reached statistical significance for each item with one exception. Based on the median total aerobic cfu counts from the study period, five out of ten control sample points and zero out of ten copper points failed proposed benchmark values of a total aerobic count of <5cfu/cm(2). All indicator micro-organisms were only isolated from control items with the exception of one item during one week. The use of copper-containing materials for surfaces in the hospital environment may therefore be a valuable adjunct for the prevention of HCAIs and requires further evaluation.
Copyright 2009 The Hospital Infection Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.