Copper Shows Promise in Fight Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Copper-embedded plastic may reduce bioburden from infectious bacteria in hospitals.

Antimicrobial resistance has become increasingly prevalent and poses a significant threat to global health. While some infections were easily treated a few years ago, these drug-resistant superbugs have held out against the most potent antibiotics.

Despite advanced cleaning techniques and the utilization of UV light, many hospitals and healthcare facilities have faced issues addressing antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Since copper-coated surfaces are self-sanitizing, researchers believe that it could present a novel tool against superbugs, according to a study published by 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,” said researcher Chetan Jinadatha, MD, MPH. “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.”

In the study, the authors examined the effect of a bedside tray table coated with laminate with copper oxide embedded into it. The trays were used in 11 occupied hospital rooms, while the standard trays were used as a control in 11 other occupied rooms.

The authors found that there was a lower bioburden accumulated on the copper trays compared with the control after 1 full day’s use, according to the study.

“It’s a small pilot study, but it is promising,” Dr Jinadatha said.

The authors note that this product is particularly promising because it is easily molded and can be placed over existing structures, such as bed rails, according to the study. Additionally, since copper is incorporated throughout the laminate, the antimicrobial properties will likely not diminish over time.

The investigators next plan to place the copper-embedded plastic into more rooms and cover additional surfaces. They will also explore the long-term efficacy of the plastic and determine how well it can fight a variety of pathogens, according to the study.

The authors also plan to determine the cost impact of the laminate. Since there are penalties related to hospital-acquired infections, this product may have the potential to alleviate the cost burden of the fines.

“We will be examining whether this material can reduce hospital-acquired infections and, essentially, pay for itself,” Dr Jinadatha said. “As long as it breaks even, we anticipate that there will be lots of interest.”

The new product and others that reduce infection rates are promising ways to combat antimicrobial resistance, according to the study.

“If we are causing less spreading of bacteria, then we are using lower amounts of antibiotics on fewer numbers of people, which means we are less likely to cause resistance in those patients,” Dr Jinadatha said. “It’s indirect, but we do believe that it will help in the long run.”

Importantly, the authors do not believe that bacteria would develop resistance to copper because it is naturally occurring. Typically, bacteria do not develop resistance to naturally occurring elements, but the authors plan to analyze this in future studies, according to the study.

However, the investigators note that basic infection control techniques are still needed.

“We still rely on our basic concepts of infection control, like hand washing, and we still need to follow standard antibiotic stewardship practices,” Dr Jinadatha said. “New technologies such as UV and copper are supposed to complement our existing infection control and possibly forgive some of the deficiencies in the basic building blocks.”