Keep It Clean with Copper

Hospital-acquired infections are a huge public-health burden, and hospital environments play a key role in harboring potentially deadly bacteria such as E. coli, C. difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. These microbes may persist for extended periods in the hospital, on surfaces such as bed rails, doorknobs, chairs, tray tables, toilet seats and even call buttons in patient rooms.

Copper surfaces, which are not routinely used in hospitals, are known to kill bacteria on contact, and studies have found much lower levels of bacteria living on copper surfaces than on standard hospital surfaces.

An interdisciplinary team from UCLA is now conducting a randomized clinical trial to determine if the reduction of surface bacteria due to the use of copper will result in a decreased number of hospital-acquired infections. Two intensive care units at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center will be outfitted with copper, sham stainless steel or conventional surfaces such as plastic or other types of coatings. Over a four-year period, all three surface types will be sampled for bacteria levels, and patient-infection outcome rates will be compared among the three surfaces.

“We will be studying if lowering the level of bacteria on hospital surfaces results in reduced infection rates in patients, better outcomes and even lower costs,” says Daniel Uslan, MD, director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program for UCLA Health.

The initial idea for the hospital-based study came from research by Peter Sinsheimer, PhD ’09, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable Technology and Policy Program, on the viability of alternatives to lead-based copper piping in delivering safer drinking water.

“Finding effective interventions to reduce hos-pital infection rates in a cost-effective manner is an emerging priority for U.S. hospitals,” says Gerald Kominski, PhD, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “This study will provide valuable information on whether or not copper-touch surfaces are a cost-effective technology for achieving this goal.”


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