Copper Sinks and Faucets May Stem Hospital Infections

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Installing copper equipment in hospital rooms may be a good way to reduce infections, a new study reports.

Researchers equipped nine rooms in a small rural hospital with copper faucet handles, toilet flush levers, door handles, light switches and other commonly touched equipment. They left nine other rooms with traditional plastic, porcelain and metal surfaces.

Then they measured bacterial contamination in each of the rooms by taking swabs and culturing them in petri dishes to see if bacteria would grow. The report is in the American Journal of Infection Control.

The highest bacterial concentrations were on toilet flush handles. But on average, fixtures in copper-equipped rooms had concentrations of bacteria about 98 percent lower than in rooms furnished with traditional equipment, whether the rooms were occupied or not. On half of the copper components, the researchers were unable to grow any bacteria at all.

“Copper in hospital rooms is not yet common,” said the lead author, Shannon M. Hinsa-Leasure, an associate professor of biology at Grinnell College in Iowa. “Most bacteria in hospital rooms are not that harmful, but there are dangerous bacteria, and copper can be useful in minimizing them.

“This is only one way in which we can reduce infections among patients,” she added. “There are many other methods as well.”