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Grinnell College Study Finds Copper Alloy Surfaces Reduce Bacteria, Possible Infection in Hospitals

September 28, 2016
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

New research, conducted at Grinnell Regional Medical Center, shows significant decrease in potentially deadly bacteria on surfaces in patient rooms

GRINNELL - A research partnership between Grinnell College and Grinnell Regional Medical Center concluded that using copper alloy materials in a hospital setting substantially decreased the hospital's bacterial burden. These results could reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections.

Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at Grinnell College, and a research team with undergraduate students Queenster Nartey and Justin Vaverka, published their results in the American Journal of Infection Control.

The new study shows for the first time that copper maintains the reduced bacterial load in both occupied, as well as clean, unoccupied rooms. The research found significantly fewer bacteria on copper alloy products such as grab bars, toilet flush valves, IV poles, switches, keyboards, sinks and dispensers.

Hinsa-Leasure's team conducted research over 18 months at Grinnell College and GRMC with more than 1,500 samples. During the study, patient rooms were cleaned daily and subjected to a final, or terminal, cleaning upon patient discharge. High-touch areas were swabbed in occupied and unoccupied rooms and aerobic bacterial counts were determined for comparison purposes. GRMC's move to copper surfaces was initiated in the name of patient safety and reducing risks of healthcare-acquired infections

High-touch surfaces throughout a hospital can serve as reservoirs for pathogenic microorganisms, including Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile and vancomycin-resistant enterococci. These and other pathogens can survive from days to months on dry surfaces, making it difficult to maintain the current suggested standard for surface-level cleanliness.

"This study is the first to demonstrate that copper alloy surfaces maintain reduced bacterial numbers in unoccupied and occupied patient rooms," Hinsa-Leasure said. "This is in contrast to control rooms, where bacterial numbers rebound following terminal cleaning to levels comparable to those found in occupied control rooms. This is key to protecting newly admitted patients from contracting infections through commonly touched surfaces, even when they are considered clean, and is integral to an effective infection-control strategy."

For the research, half of the patient rooms at GRMC were fitted with copper alloy and its germ-killing properties on high-touch surfaces. Because of the research findings, additional rooms will soon have the same life-saving features to reduce risks of acquiring an infection while admitted at the hospital.

"This has been an extremely thrilling research opportunity for Grinnell College and GRMC. As a trustee for Grinnell College, I want to expand the opportunity for students to participate in real world research that has such far reaching practical impact," said Todd Linden, GRMC president and CEO. "I am so very proud of this partnership in the name of patient safety and academic science."

GRMC has not had any healthcare-acquired infections in the past 12 months, except for three urinary tract infections. However, healthcare-associated infections are a serious concern in the medical industry. Of the 35.1 million discharges of inpatients in the U.S. each year, an estimated one in 25 patients admitted to a hospital contracts a healthcare-associated infection. In 2011, an estimated 10 percent of the 722,000 patients who contracted healthcare-associated infections died from the infection.

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has generated both enhanced scrutiny and added consequence to this infection rate. Approximately 23 percent of the more than 3,300 U.S. hospitals evaluated by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will lose some reimbursement from Medicare as a consequence of the Hospital Acquired Condition Reduction Program or quality of care penalty mandated by law.

To decrease microbial pathogens, some hospitals have begun installing metal surfaces that are naturally antimicrobial, including copper alloy, which kill a majority of bacteria within two hours. Copper compounds have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, yet copper alloys were just recently recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as having antimicrobial effectiveness, driving the increased study and use of copper alloy surfaces.

"Although there is an increased cost for installing copper alloy products compared to stainless steel or porcelain, the lives saved and costs reduced by decreasing the number of healthcare-associated infections far exceed the initial input," Hinsa-Leasure said. "We have to remember that copper alloy surfaces not only kill bacteria on the surfaces but also damage their DNA, which decreases the spread of antibiotic resistance."

Further details about the research can be found at www.grinnell.edu/academics/areas/biology/research/copper

 
 

 

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