Study Shows Copper Bed Rails Stay Cleaner Than Plastic for a Longer Duration

Research results demonstrating that hospital bed rails made of copper have fewer contaminants and remain clean longer than plastic bed rails were presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Chicago on Sept. 19, 2011. The study found that plastic rails were re-contaminated within minutes of being cleaned, while the copper rails considerably lowered the amount of bacteria present likely as a consequence of the continuous antimicrobial activity of metallic copper.

Researchers assessed the amount of bacteria present on occupied patient beds in a medical intensive care unit at the Medical University of South Carolina Medical Cente (MUSC)r. Half of the beds were outfitted as manufactured, with plastic rails; the remaining beds were modified with copper rail overlays. Both groups were sampled before cleaning, thirty minutes after being cleaned, and thereafter at two hour intervals.

Cleaning reduced the bacterial burden on both the plastic and copper bed rails, but within six hours, the bacterial burden on the plastic was almost at the same level as before it was cleaned. The amount of bacteria present on the copper bed rails, however, remained 90 percent lower than the levels seen on the control, plastic rails

"Initial sampling showed that the bacterial burden on the copper bed rails was 10-fold lower than on the plastic from the outset before either was even cleaned. This can be attributed to the antimicrobial nature of the copper," says Dr. Michael Schmidt, professor and vice chairman of microbiology and Immunology at MUSC and a study participant.

Previous studies have shown that objects in closest proximity to patients, e.g. bed rails and call buttons, have the highest levels of Staphylococcus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE).

These objects act as reservoirs on which pathogens can survive for extended periods of time, creating a risk to patients, healthcare workers and visitors, according to Schmidt. The use of antimicrobial materials, such as copper alloys, help reduce the levels of bacteria that pose risks to human health.

Independent laboratory testing has demonstrated that when cleaned regularly, antimicrobial copper products kill greater than 99.9 percent of the following bacteria within two hours of exposure: MRSA, VRE, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7. For a complete listing of approved EPA public health claims for antimicrobial copper, visit Antimicrobial Copper surfaces are a supplement to and not a substitute for standard infection control practices and have been shown to reduce microbial contamination, but do not necessarily prevent cross contamination; users must continue to follow all current infection control practices.