Fantasilandia in Chile, one of Latin America’s largest theme parks, has replaced its most frequently touched surfaces with copper to help reduce the spread of germs and protect the health of its visitors. But why? Because copper and its alloys exhibit impressive antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties.

Copper has been exploited for health purposes since ancient times. Egyptian and Babylonian soldiers would sharpen their bronze swords (an alloy of copper and tin) after a battle, and place the filings in their wounds to reduce infection and speed healing.

But only now does our research describe how copper and its alloys exhibit these impressive properties  and the processes involved. The process involves the release of copper ions (electrically charged particles) when microbes, transferred by touching, sneezing or vomiting, land on the copper surface. The ions prevent cell respiration, punch holes in the bacterial cell membrane or disrupt the viral coat, and destroy the DNA and RNA inside.

This latter property is important as it means that no mutation can occur – preventing the microbe from developing resistance to copper. Global concern is growing over antimicrobial resistance and the risk of death that it presents from common infections in even minor operations. Therefore, it is fortunate that copper alloys kill superbugs, including MRSA and those from the notorious ESKAPE group of pathogens – the leading cause of hospital-acquired infections.

Transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from resistant bacteria to other bacteria is also stopped because the genes themselves are destroyed. These destructive properties are enhanced by the bacteria since they release small amounts of hydrogen peroxide. This reacts with the copper ions to form ferociously reactive oxygen, which also attacks and damages the microbes in multiple areas.

All of these laboratory studies have been translated into the healthcare environment. Studies worldwide have shown that, with routine cleaning, when copper alloy is used on regularly touched surfaces in busy wards and intensive care units, there is up to a 90% reduction in the numbers of live bacteria on their surfaces. This includes bed rails, chair arms, call buttons, over-bed tables, IV poles, taps and door handles.

Studies in three hospital intensive care units in the US also showed a remarkable 58% reduction in infection rates. So, unsurprisingly, copper alloy touch surfaces are now being deployed worldwide in airports, trains, train stations, busses, restaurant kitchens and gyms. The new Francis Crick Institute in London is kitted out in copper alloys, supporting its foresight and vision as a world-leading research centre for the public good.

Some common viruses have no vaccine available, such as the winter vomiting virus (norovirus) – the scourge of cruise ships. Others, such as influenza, mutate so rapidly that it is difficult for vaccines to keep up – and they need to be reformulated annually. Copper surfaces however wipe them out regardless of year-on-year changes in the microbes.

So why don’t we make the most of this material today? While copper boomed during the industrial revolution as a material for objects, fixtures, and buildings it was later pushed out by new materials like plastic, tempered glass, aluminium and steel, along with a wave of modernism that done away with brass door knobs, replacing them with sleeker, more minimal styles in cheaper materials. in addition to that, there’s not enough data on copper and other technologies to make recommendations on what hospitals should do.

The research that has been conducted is significant because of how much of a problem healthcare-acquired infections are, not to mention the current climate. In the US alone, there are about 1.7 million infections and 99,000 deaths linked to hais per year, a total cost between $35.7 and $45 billion annually, from the extra treatments people need when they get infected.

This month, the virus that causes COVID-19 was shown to hang around on plastic packaging and plastic medical equipment for up to three days after contamination, according to a pre-print paper from researchers at the national institute of health.

The team behind the paper looked at how long the virus that causes the new coronavirus (SARA-COV-2) can survive on different substances from cardboard to copper, comparing its lifespan to the virus that causes SARS (SARS-COV-1).

The results show that the COVID-19 virus appears to survive longest on polypropylene and stainless steel, where it can survive for two to three days after the initial contamination. on cardboard, it survived for nearly an entire day in some cases—up to 24 hours—post-contamination. not surprisingly, it lasted the least amount of time on copper, where it survived only up to four hours.

Via The Conversation, via designboom.