Antibiotic-resistant germs eliminated by copper

Shown in live global broadcast from Southampton University in the UK

Researcher Emma Goode preparing for the experiment

Following research by Professor Bill Keevil at the University of Southampton, which showed that copper can significantly reduce the presence of the superbug MRSA, the university, in partnership with the Copper Development Association, demonstrated in a live broadcast copper’s role in reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms in hospitals.

Tying in with the ‘Antimicrobial resistance and its global spread’ theme of World Health Day on 7 April, the live experiment from a laboratory at the University of Southampton in the UK used state-of-the-art fluorescent microscopy to show copper eradicating MRSA bacteria within minutes.

Ten million MRSA bacteria, stained with a fluorescent dye, were loaded onto a 1cm2 piece of copper and a 1cm2 piece of stainless steel (control) to compare survival. The bacteria perished rapidly on copper, yet survived on stainless steel: a material used commonly in hospitals, yet lacking any antimicrobial efficacy.

Copper under the microscope

“Bacteria such as MRSA can survive on ordinary surfaces like door handles, taps and grab rails for days, even months, and be transferred on hands, spreading bacteria to other surfaces or to patients,” said Keevil.

“As more resistant bacteria emerge, we’re running out of drugs to treat the infections they cause, so we need to do everything practicable to prevent their spread. Copper is a powerful antimicrobial, which quickly and continuously reduces the number of bacteria on its surface.”

Keevil said copper has also been shown to be effective in busy clinical environments as part of a set of infection control procedures.

“Changing common touch surfaces in hospitals to copper can help break the chain of infection, leading to a more hygienic environment, which must have a positive impact on the well-being of patients, even in the face of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” he said.

Approximately seven million people worldwide acquire a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) each year and, of the four million people in Europe, around 37,000 die.