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Is Copper the Cure?

Is Copper the Cure?

Credit: Robert Lopez
Source: CK-12 Foundation
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

It looks harmless enough. It’s just a door handle. But in hospitals, clinics, and similar health-care settings, doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces are covered with germs. They contribute to a really serious problem: healthcare-acquired infections, or HAI.

Why It Matters

  • Each year in U.S. hospitals alone, HAIs cause an estimated 1.7 million cases of illness and over 100,000 deaths. This makes HAIs the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. The cost of all those illnesses and deaths is a whopping $45 billion a year! More hand washing and other hygiene changes have helped to some extent, but not enough.
  • Credit: Fotos GOVBA
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/agecombahia/6425101047/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    With so many sick patients and foot traffic, it's difficult to keep a hospital completely sterile [Figure2]

     

  • A promising new approach for controlling HAIs is as old as Earth itself. It’s the transition metal, copper, long known for its antimicrobial properties. A recent experiment confirmed that making doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces out of copper or copper alloys can greatly reduce the number of germs that live on the surfaces. Watch this video to learn more: 
    http://www.antimicrobialcopper.com/us.aspx

Show What You Know

At the link below, learn more about the antimicrobial properties of copper and its practical applications. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Describe how and why copper kills germs.
  2. Describe the four-year experiment (trial) that showed copper’s effectiveness in reducing hospital infections.
  3. What surfaces in health-care facilities are frequently touched and would have fewer germs if they were made of copper?
  4. Besides health-care settings, where else could copper be used to reduce the spread of disease?
  5. How did ancient people take advantage of copper’s antimicrobial properties?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Robert Lopez; Source: CK-12 Foundation; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Fotos GOVBA; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/agecombahia/6425101047/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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