Better than hand-washing to kill bacteria: copper

Posted Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named the elimination of hospital-acquired infections one of their “Top Ten Winnable Battles.”

It’s an admirable goal and imminently achievable. Yet, Congress and the Obama administration have taken no action on a suggestion that could slash America’s annual 100,000 deaths from hospital-acquired infectious diseases by about 80 percent.

According to a 2011 Harris Survey, 56 percent of Americans are more concerned about contracting germs in a hospital than in a public restroom, and nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults say they know someone who contracted an infectious disease during a hospital stay.

Unfortunately, the infection control programs many hospitals have put in place to deal with the problem simply aren’t working.

That’s not surprising because most are focused on getting hospital staffs and their patients to buy into a regimen of rigorous hand-washing.

These have failed to lower the rate of infections caused by a new generation of super bugs because hand-washing relies on 100 percent compliance, and humans are, well, just human.

Hospital personnel, and particularly doctors, do not consistently wash their hands. Studies have reported only 50 percent to 60 percent adhere to required hand hygiene protocols. This lapse in behavior by the very people who should know better is needlessly costing lives.

It’s obvious we need solutions that don’t depend on human actions in order to be effective. Just last month, the Journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology published a U.S. Department of Defense study showing that installing antimicrobial copper in an intensive-care unit kills bacteria and saves lives.

Clinical trials at the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Charleston, S.C., and two other centers found that patients admitted to ICU rooms outfitted with antimicrobial copper equipment such as bedrails, IV poles and tray tables had a 58 percent lower rate of developing hospital-acquired infections.

One of the most compelling findings was that this 58 percent reduction occurred when only 7 percent of the ICU was retrofitted with copper.

Antimicrobial copper surfaces have been scientifically proven to kill 99 percent of such antibiotic-resistant infections as MRSA, VRE, E. coli and Staph within two hours. The process works continuously, around-the-clock and does not wear off or fade away with time.

With antibiotic-resistant superbugs increasing at an alarming rate, retrofitting antimicrobial copper in our nation’s hospitals should be a top healthcare priority.

Let’s start with demanding that the government embrace this proven technology and start installing copper fixtures and equipment in our VA hospitals.

The nature of war wounds makes veterans far more vulnerable to contracting deadly resistant strains of bacteria because wounds incurred in battle are not “clean.”

Explosives rip off the limbs of soldiers who are often hiding in unsanitary or unsafe locations with pieces of shrapnel embedded in their shell-shocked bodies. Medical attention often is hours away.

The number of veterans on disability from America’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan alone has reached 670,000 — 100 times as many soldiers as have been killed in action.

Currently, not one hospital in America has made the commitment to embrace antimicrobial copper as part of its infection-control policy.

As we grapple with the healthcare issues facing this country, asking our government to set the standard for healthcare by making our VA hospitals safer is a vital first step.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou is a healthcare expert and a consultant to the Copper Development Association.

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