By Shihoko Goto - Exclusive to Copper Investing News

The global stampede to secure copper supplies may heat up even further as the red metal's antimicrobial properties come under the limelight.

Studies at three US hospitals have shown that copper drastically reduced the spread of bacteria in intensive care units, where patients are particularly prone to infectious diseases. By covering high-contact equipment and furniture in hospitals at least 60 percent with copper, researchers believe that the rate of bacterial infections can be reduced drastically which in turn would lead to significant savings in healthcare.

“People have known for thousands of years…the antimicrobial property of copper,” said Dr. Michael Schmidt of the Medical University of South Carolina. The ancient Greeks, for instance, found that water kept in copper jugs was safer to drink than water kept in other containers.

Taking that knowledge further is a study funded by the US Department of Defense  since 2007 at three medical centers, namely the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in South Carolina,  as well as the Medical University of South Carolina. After nearly four years of clinical trials, researchers have found that when surfaces that come into frequent contact with patients, hospital staff, and visitors are covered with antimicrobial copper, there is a 41 percent reduction in patients suffering from a hospital infection.

Copper is used on six key surface areas in ICU units: bed rails, bed tray tables, the arms of visitors' chairs, IV poles, call monitors, and touch monitors to survey patients.

Schmidt, who is vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at Medical University, pointed out that copper was not only an easy way for hospitals to reduce the risks of  patients falling victim to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, it also is a more cost-effective way to keep infections from spreading.

While the average length of a hospital stay is about four days for US patients, that number goes up to 19 days once the patient comes down with infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA. Meanwhile, the odds of an ICU patient getting infected with MRSA is one in 20. That rate could be reduced by nearly half simply by using more copper-surfaced equipment, Schmidt argued.

Still, Schmidt acknowledged that getting more hospitals to introduce copper products into the hospital rooms may not be easy.

“It's about changing dogma,” that hand hygiene alone isn't enough to curb the spread of bacteria, Schmidt said.

That being said, there is plenty of excitement within the copper industry about the possibility of using the red metal on hospital equipment. London-based metal industry consultancy CRU Group's Jon Barnes estimates that hospital use of copper with increase demand for the red metal by about 250,000 to one million tons per year, or about 5 percent of the current global copper output.

Chilean copper mining giant Codelco is mulling the possibility of using copper in new clinics, and the state-owned mining group has already partnered with local manufacturers to produce socks with copper fibers. Indeed, copper socks were provided to Chile's 33 miners who were trapped in a mine last year in order to help them keep healthy underground.

Other products that could potentially benefit from copper coating include stethoscopes, pens used by hospital staff, keyboards, the mouse of computers, and much of the surface area of nurses' stations.

Schmidt suggested that copper could be used effectively not just in hospitals, but also in long-term nursing homes, schools, gyms, and cruise ships.

It would be a good way for engineers and microbiologists to work together to think about strategic placements of copper products, Schmidt said.

“It's certainly a strategic investment,” he added.


Disclosure: I, Shihoko Goto, have no interest in the companies mentioned in this article.

Hopes High for Copper Fighting Hospital Infections from Copper Investing News