Sometimes something well-tried can also be innovative: already in Ancient Greece, copper was considered to be very antimicrobial. This ability is now playing an important role in the struggle against dangerous hospital germs. In a worldwide noted field test, a complete hospital ward at the Asklepios Clinic in Wandsbek in Hamburg, Germany, was equipped with door handles, door plates and light switches made of copper. Because the germs are not only transmitted from one hand to another but, in many cases, also by touching door handles and switches. At the moment, scientists at the University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, are evaluating the samples of the first study phase. As a result, the Asklepios Clinic Wandsbek becomes the pioneer in this clinical research in Europe.
The main opponents are dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria (MRSA), with which more and more patients worldwide fall ill in clinics and nursing homes. Classical sanitary measures are often insufficient to prevent a further spreading. According to the clinic and the involved scientists at the University Halle-Wittenberg, the first study results have shown "significantly less chances of survival" of microbes on copper surfaces, which is why the field test will be continued in the second half of the year. A complete evaluation is expected by early 2009.
Worldwide race against time
"The struggle against high-resistant agents cannot be won with the previous means, such as the use of new antibiotics and intensive disinfection measures. We must break new grounds in order to reduce the potential danger for our patients," Professor Prof. Dr. med. Jörg Braun, chief physician of the I. Medical Department at the Asklepios Clinic Wandsbek explains the motives for the field test. "Scientific tests performed by several independent working groups have shown beyond doubt that copper surfaces can efficiently kill bacteria and other germs," Prof. Dr. Dietrich H. Nies, Director of the Institute for Biology at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany, also confirms.
With its field test (two times eight weeks with weekly periodic sampling), the Asklepios Clinic Wandsbeck is involved in a worldwide study program. Comparable studies under clinical conditions are planned or are being performed at the same time in Great Britain, South Africa, the US and Japan. In Wandsbek, samples from door handles, door plates and light switches were collected during the last weeks: both from common surfaces, e.g. made of stainless steel, and from surfaces with cooper alloys. Experience has shown that door handles and light switches are the most frequent surfaces of transmission.
50,000 casualties in Europe alone every year
According to serious estimates, more than half a million of such nosocomial infections - i.e. caught in the clinic - occur every year, in German hospitals alone. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), there are three million cases all over Europe, of which 50,000 are fatal. Antibiotic-resistant germs like MRSA (MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) present a particularly high danger in this context.
In addition to the partly life-threatening danger for the patients, there is also an enormous economic damage which might amount to billions in Germany alone. For the US, there is an estimate by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), according to which nosocomial infections incur costs of more than 4.5 billion US dollars. In Great Britain, the National Health Service (NHS) estimates the additional costs at one billion pounds sterling every year. According to estimates, patients who contract MRSA in the clinic stay in sickbed up to four days longer on average and incur additional costs to the amount of 4,000 euro, in individual cases even up to 20,000 euro. The most frequent complications with weakened patients after a MRSA infection include wound infections, pneumonias, blood poisonings, and urinary tract infections.
Research is going full steam ahead worldwide
The tests at the Asklepios Clinic in Hamburg, Germany, were initiated by laboratory tests in which 99.9 percent of the bacteria, including the high hazard MRSA agents, were eliminated within a period of a few minutes up to two hours on copper surfaces. In contrast, the same microbes were able to survive up to three days on stainless steel surfaces. This is why the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed the antimicrobial effect of copper only recently, in March this year. Current research is closing a scientific gap which has existed for a very long time: "Humanity has had positive experience with the hygienic effect of copper for thousands of years," says Dr.-Ing. Anton Klassert, Business Manager of the German Copper Institute (DKI). "Against the backdrop of the current problems in the health care system, the DKI has now taken the first steps in order to apply these properties of copper in a modern hospital," according to the Director of the European Copper Competence Centre "Antimicrobial Properties".
Visual material and the PowerPoint presentations of the speakers on the topic "Copper & Germs" are available on request.
Contact for media representatives:
Asklepios Clinics Hamburg
Tel.: +49 (40) 1818 826632
German Copper Institute (DKI)
Tel.: +49 (211) 47 96 314