Cruise Ships and Norovirus: How Copper Can Keep People Healthy on the Open Seas

Commonly contracted on cruise ships, a new study proves that antibiotic-resistant norovirus is no match for antimicrobial copper-touch surfaces. Designed as the ultimate getaway, cruise ships attract millions of vacationers each year. For daysor even weekscruise ship passengers can enjoy the feel of a luxurious resort in the middle of the sea while traveling around the world. However, confined space, constant interaction with other guests, and shared dining quarters put passengers at risk for contracting and possibly spreading norovirus, a virus especially difficult to control in such a setting. Without any specific treatment or vaccines available, a potential solution may be to install copper fixtures and hardware.

Responsible for more than 267 million cases of acute gastroenteritis worldwide each year, norovirus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, human touch and contact with contaminated surfaces. Although healthcare facilities are the most commonly reported settings for norovirus outbreaks in the United States, more than 90 percent of diarrheal disease outbreaks on cruise ships are caused by this germ. In 2012 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 3,000 cases of norovirus among cruise ships.

But how does copper help? A recent study conducted by professor Bill Keevil, chair of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton in the U.K., demonstrated that norovirus was rapidly killed on copper and copper-alloy surfaces as a result of antimicrobial properties in the metal. Taking his findings to the U.S., Keevil presented his study at the 2013 America Society of Microbiology annual meeting in Denver earlier this year.

In the United States, 27 million people contract norovirus each year, resulting in 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping caused by inflammation of the stomach and intestines.

"What makes norovirus difficult to control is the fact that it is resistant to many disinfectants," says Harold Michels, senior vice president of technology and technical services at the Copper Development Association. "These high-risk areas, such as cruise ships, should turn to copper-alloy surfaces, which can lower the chance of an outbreak."

Antimicrobial Copper has been scientifically proven to continuously kill more than 99.9 percent of bacteria within two hours of exposure including: MRSA, Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE), Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7.  The addition of copper surfaces can help make any cruise safer.

"To date, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered more than 400 copper based alloyssuch as brass and bronzeas public health antimicrobial products," says Michels. "From doorknobs to armrests, copper products represent a breakthrough in terms of human health." 

In fact, another recently published study in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology has revealed that the use of antimicrobial copper surfaces in hospital rooms can reduce the number of healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) by 58 percent as compared to patients treated in intensive care units with non-copper touch surfaces, making the case for hospitals to install antimicrobial copper products to engineer safety into their patient care.

Source: Copper Development Association