Where the Germs Are and Where the Antimicrobial Copper Will Go

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A couple of weeks ago we identified a new metal war ready to be waged against hospital-acquired infections, aka healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). And not surprisingly, only a few types of infections make up the majority of the problem, with the cost pegged at anywhere from $28 billion to $88 billion annually.

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So we wanted to know where the bacteria that cause some of these infections actually live and how hospitals have sought to lower infection rates.

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What can antimicrobial copper door handles and bedrails mean for hospital infections? A lot.

Quite simply, we see metals – specifically antimicrobial copper – as a big part of the solution (we will come to that in a moment). In our prior piece we indicated the 4 most dominant categories of healthcare-associated infection: urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, bloodstream infections and pneumonia. The causes for many of these HAIs involve contamination of the healthcare setting, surgical procedures, medical devices, needles and tubes used for blood work, catheters, endotracheal procedures, contagious diseases between and among health care workers and patients, and more.

“Between” and “Among” are the Operative Words

So, where do these germs spread “between and among?”

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported on the Hospital Microbiome Project, which collected microbe samples in a hospital setting to see how the design, room setup and items in a room exacerbate the spread of HAIs. Not surprisingly, bacteria and microbes live on places such as windows, counters, AC vents, cell phones, doorways, beds, curtains, tray tables, chairs and shower heads.

In short, microbes live on many surfaces containing metals or could contain metals such as bed rails, tray tables, counters, doorways, handles, fixtures, etc., and many of the above-referenced items.

MetalMiner followed up with Jack Gilbert of the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, who ran the Hospital Microbiome Project, and though the results of this study will not be released until 2016, Gilbert indicated that he supported the use of antimicrobials in hospital environments.

Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) outlines a number of procedures and strategies designed to reduce infections from the environment as it pertains to hospital equipment and “all horizontal surfaces.” As one would expect, the horizontal surfaces look a lot like where the Hospital Microbiome Project saw all of the microbes.

Copper: Antimicrobial Alloys, Deploy!

And that’s where copper fits in. In 2008, five different groups of copper alloys received an EPA registration. The registration enables the registrant to “market these products with a claim that copper, when used in accordance with the label, ‘kills 99.9% of bacteria within two hours.’” In 2012, this registration was also granted to EOScu, a polymer surface infused with cuprous oxide.

The alloys themselves contain a minimum of 60% copper and are currently marketed under CuVerro (by Olin Brass), the market leader. And herein lies the catalyst for Copper Wars – CuVerro’s alloys and EOScu’s engineered surfaces will need to compete with incumbent installed surfaces including stainless steel, plastic and other materials.

In a follow-up post, we’ll examine the cost impact of regulatory penalties placed on poorly performing hospitals with unsatisfactory performance around HAIs. [Hint: it’s significant].

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