June 13, 2013

Thursday

Copper: Is it Worth it?

Everyone in the healthcare industry knows HAIs (Healthcare-Associated Infections) are a huge problem. People come to the hospital to be cured and end up with another infection? That’s a vicious cycle I don’t even want to think about.

So what’s the solution? Most people agree there’s no magic spell, no one solution that will eliminate HAIs with a wave of a wand. What we need then, are a couple of good ideas that make a significant impact. One of these ideas is antimicrobial copper. And even though eliminating HAIs isn’t a magic trick, a surface that naturally kills bacteria does sound like something out of a Harry Potter novel. That’s why I understand the skepticism.

Jon Otter is one of those skeptics. He voices his doubts in his blog post “Three good reasons not to ‘copperize’ your hospital surfaces”. In short, his three reasons are:
1. He got a free copper pen at a conference, and now it’s starting to tarnish. Otter doesn’t want his hospital appliances to tarnish too.
2. His free copper pen makes his hands smell like metal.
3. He took the scrap metal from his old copper pipes to a scrap metal merchant, and he got a lot of money for them. So copper must be too expensive.

I think I’ll address these concerns point by point:
1. How many times have you gathered all your pens together, sat down, and washed them? I’m willing to bet you, as well as Otter, would answer me with a resounding “Zero”. Just because a surface is antimicrobial doesn’t mean it will continue to remain in prime condition if you don’t wipe it down regularly. Soap is literally made for cleaning, but if a bar of soap is dropped in the dirt it’s not going to be very effective. The same principle holds true for antimicrobial copper. In addition, judging a company based on its freebies is like judging a hotel based on the shampoo they provide in their bathrooms. Neither will give you an accurate evaluation, and one will leave you with hair better left in the 1980’s.

2. The smell that Otter is referring to is most likely a result of the tarnishing, which I have already discussed. In addition, if Otter is concerned about the supposedly overwhelming smell of metal, he should stay away from healthcare facilities altogether. If appliances aren’t made with copper, they’re probably stainless steel, also a metal. And if it’s a tradeoff between my hands smelling faintly metallic versus an HAI, I think I’ll avoid the infection and use scented lotion.

3. We know using copper material is a more expensive option. But what we realize is that copper is an investment. We’re not comparing trendy t-shirts and choosing the one that’s on sale. The Center for Disease Control reports HAI contraction rates at about 1 in every 20 patients and the cost at an average of $35.7-45 billion each year. Spending a little more up front will, without a doubt, pay off in the long run.

Sure, converting your appliances to copper won’t be the Expecto Patronum of HAIs (that’s a Harry Potter spell for non-magic readers out there). But when added to the infection prevention measures already in place, it can and will be a huge step towards the goal of eliminating HAIs from healthcare facilities entirely.

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2 Comments

Filed under Anti microbial copper alloys, Daily Blog Posts, Healthcare Acquired Infections, Thursday Thought of the Day

2 responses to “June 13, 2013

  1. Norbert Sigwarth

    Can the tarnish be cleaned off easily just by soap? Bare copper gets stubborn black finger prints. Copper with anti-tarnish protective coating, presumably is insulated so it won’t be effective for killing germs?

    • Good question, Norbert. First of all, it’s important that the copper is cleaned regularly from the start to prevent any tarnish from ever showing up, rather than waiting until it’s too far gone. Black fingerprints aren’t going to show up from one patient touching a copper handrail. Antimicrobial copper is intended to improve and add to a facility’s infection prevention routine, not replace it, meaning surface areas, etc. still need to be cleaned and disinfected according to normal standards. In addition, I’m not sure what copper you’re talking about, but different copper alloys have different compositions, meaning some are more susceptible to tarnish. Ultimately though, if you’re going to leave a fingerprint on a surface either way, wouldn’t you rather it be a germ-free fingerprint?

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