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New Study: Copper May Prevent Spread of Drug-Resistant Infections

Copper surfaces rapidly kill bacteria on contact, researchers find (Dec. 4)

New research conducted at the University of Southampton in the U.K. has shown that copper can prevent horizontal transmission of genes, which has contributed to the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant infections worldwide.

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) in bacteria is largely responsible for the development of antibiotic resistance, which has led to an increasing number of difficult-to-treat healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs), according to the researchers.

The new study, which appears in the journal mBio, shows that while HGT can occur in the healthcare environment on frequently touched metal surfaces — such as door handles, trolleys, and tables — copper prevents this process and rapidly kills bacteria on contact.

Lead author Professor Bill Keevil explains: “While studies have focused on HGT in vivo, this work investigates whether the ability of pathogens to persist in the environment, particularly on touch surfaces, may also play an important role. Here we show prolonged survival of multidrug-resistant Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae on stainless steel surfaces for several weeks. However, both rapid death of antibiotic-resistant strains and destruction of plasmid and genomic DNA were observed on copper and copper alloy surfaces, which could be useful in the prevention of infection spread and gene transfer.”

Copper may also have a wider role in infection control beyond the healthcare environment, according to Keebil. “Copper touch surfaces have promise for preventing antibiotic resistance transfer in public buildings and mass transportation systems, which lead to local and — in the case of jet travel — rapid worldwide dissemination of multidrug-resistant superbugs as soon as they appear,” he says.

Keebil notes that copper touch surfaces have been installed around the world, using the metal’s ability to continuously reduce the bioburden and consequently the risk of HCAI transmission. The new study offers additional evidence to deploy copper — and copper-containing alloys that benefit from the metal’s antimicrobial properties — in the form of touch surfaces to provide extra protection along with standard hygiene practices.

Source: University of Southampton; December 4, 2012.

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