(CN) – The key to reducing bacterial infections in hospitals and preventing almost 100,000 deaths each year may be to replace standard hospital beds with copper beds, according to new research released Friday.
In a new study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, copper hospital beds in the Intensive Care Unit were found to harbor an average of 95% less bacteria than standard hospital beds, maintaining these levels throughout patients’ stays.
"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 co-author Michael G. Schmidt, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston.
Hospital beds are among the most contaminated surfaces in the world of patient care, and the subsequent infections are the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. In their study, researchers compared samples from ICU beds outfitted with copper rails, footboards, and bed controls to traditional hospital beds with plastic surfaces. The results showed that 90% of the bacteria taken from the plastic outfitted beds had bacterial concentrations that surpassed what is deemed 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," Schmidt said.
Copper surfaces, including hospital beds, have been known to repel and kill bacteria. The use of copper for its antibacterial properties dates back to ancient Ayurveda, one of the oldest systems of medicine, during which drinking water was stored in copper vessels to prevent illness. More recently, numerous medical studies have shown the antimicrobial benefits of copper.
Despite the evidence, copper hospital beds have yet to be commercialized.
"Based on the positive results of previous trials, we worked to get a fully encapsulated copper bed produced," Schmidt said. "We needed to convince manufacturers that the risk to undertake this effort was worthwhile." He adds that these beds will pay for themselves in patients’ lives and healthcare dollars saved.
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