A new study has found that copper hospital beds in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) harbored an average of 95 percent fewer bacteria than conventional hospital beds, and maintained these low-risk levels throughout patients’ stay in hospital. The research is published this week in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
“Hospital-acquired infections sicken approximately 2 million Americans annually, and kill nearly 100,000, numbers roughly equivalent to the number of deaths if a wide-bodied jet crashed every day,” said coauthor Michael G. Schmidt, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. They are the eighth leading cause of death in the US.
Hospital beds are among the most contaminated surfaces in patient care settings. “Despite the best efforts by environmental services workers, they are neither cleaned often enough, nor well enough,” said Dr. Schmidt. Nonetheless, until recently, patient beds incorporating copper surfaces—long known to repel and kill bacteria—have not been commercially available.
Knowledge of copper’s antimicrobial properties dates back to ancient Ayurveda, when drinking water was often stored in copper vessels to prevent illness. In the modern medical era, numerous studies have noted copper’s antimicrobial properties.
However, until recently, no-one had designed acute–care hospital beds that enabled all high risk surfaces to be encapsulated in copper. “Based on the positive results of previous trials, we worked to get a fully encapsulated copper bed produced,” said Dr. Schmidt. “We needed to convince manufacturers that the risk to undertake this effort was worthwhile.”
This in situ study compared the relative contamination of intensive care unit (ICU) beds outfitted with copper rails, footboards, and bed controls to traditional hospital beds with plastic surfaces. Nearly 90 percent of the bacterial samples taken from the tops of the plastic rails had concentrations of bacteria that exceed levels considered safe.
“The findings indicate that antimicrobial copper beds can assist infection control practitioners in their quest to keep healthcare surfaces hygienic between regular cleanings, thereby reducing the potential risk of transmitting bacteria associated with healthcare associated infections,” said Dr. Schmidt.
With the advent of copper encapsulated hospital beds, dividends will likely be paid in improved patient outcomes, lives saved, and healthcare dollars saved.