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Copper objects in ICU reduce HAI prevalence

Saturday April 13, 2013
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In a study, placement of copper objects in ICU rooms reduced the number of healthcare-acquired infections in patients by more than half.

In the United States, HAIs result in 100,000 deaths annually and add an estimated $45 billion to healthcare costs, according to background information in the study, which will be published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

HAIs often contaminate items within hospital rooms, allowing microbes such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus to transfer from patient to patient. Although several strategies have been developed to decrease HAIs, few have been clinically proven to reduce the spread of these infections.

Researchers tested the capability of copper surfaces to reduce environmental contamination of these germs and thereby decrease HAIs in patients. Copper surfaces have an inherent ability to continuously kill environmental microbes on these surfaces, the researchers noted.

The study was performed from July 12, 2010 to June 14, 2011 at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, also in Charleston, S.C. ICU patients at these hospitals randomly were assigned to receive care in a traditional patient room or in a room where items such as bed rails, tables, IV poles and nurse’s call buttons were made solely from copper-based metals. Both traditional patient rooms and rooms with copper surfaces at each institution were cleaned using the same practices.

The proportion of patients who developed an HAI and/or colonization with MRSA or VRE was significantly lower among patients in rooms with copper surfaces (7.1%) compared with patients in traditional rooms (12.3%). The proportion of patients developing an HAI was significantly lower among those assigned to copper rooms (3.4%) compared with those in traditional rooms (8.1%).

"Patients who suffer HAIs often stay in the hospital longer, incur greater costs and unfortunately suffer a greater likelihood of dying while hospitalized," Cassandra D. Salgado, MD, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, said in a news release from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, publisher of ICHE.

"Our study found that placement of items with copper surfaces into ICU rooms as an additional measure to routine infection control practices could reduce the risk of HAI as well as colonization with multidrug-resistant microbes."

Previous attempts to reduce HAIs have required healthcare worker engagement or use of systems such as ultraviolet light, which may be limited in effectiveness because of regrowth of organisms after the intervention, the researchers said. In contrast, copper alloy surfaces offer a passive way to reduce burden, without staff intervention or involvement with outside providers.


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