Antibiotic resistance

The weapon of choice against superbugs might be made of copper

Hospital-acquired infections are both a cause of and contribute to resistance, but a new technology can help.

Photo: The weapon of choice against superbugs might be made of copper
Source: / Shutterstock

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem, as some infections that used to be easily cured are now immune to even our most powerful antibiotics. One approach has been the use of ultraviolet (UV) light, which destroys bacteria, but also has limitations. Copper-coated surfaces are self-sanitizing and therefore might help fill in the gap, and Chetan Jinadatha, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple, Texas, and his colleagues recently completed a pilot study demonstrating how that might work. Their results are published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

“UV has limitations: You can’t use it when the patient is in the room and we’re providing care, and you can’t get into tiny crevices where light doesn’t easily reach,” Jinadatha said. “We need to keep the bioburden—or the number of potentially infectious organisms—as low as possible, so we started looking for a technology to do so.” Jinadatha and his team placed a bedside tray table that had been coated with a laminate material impregnated with copper oxide in 11 occupied rooms in the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Temple. They also studied 11 other rooms that used a standard laminate tray table, which acted as a control. Results indicated that the surfaces with the copper compound accumulated a lower bioburden than the control surfaces after the first full day of their use. “It’s a small pilot study, but it is promising,” Jinadatha said.

Use on existing structures – like bed rails – possible

What differentiates this product from other substances with similar properties is that it is already scalable, it can be put over existing hospital infrastructure like bed rails, the material is easy to mold and—because the copper is embedded throughout—the antimicrobial properties are not likely to wear off and be rendered ineffective. The research team’s next step is to put the copper-embedded plastic into more patient rooms and cover five different surfaces, including bed rails, with it. They will also be studying its effectiveness over a longer period of time and on a wider variety of pathogens.

This technology also indirectly helps in the fight against antimicrobial resistance by causing lower usage of antibiotics. Furthermore, it is not expected that the microbes will develop resistance to copper; because it's naturally occurring in the environment.

Source: Texas A & M University


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