Written by Wilton R. Moran, Project Engineer at Copper Development Assoc.
Microbial surface contamination is the root cause of many costly disease outbreaks. Recent examples include the H1N1 swine flu pandemic that wreaked havoc worldwide, recent norovirus outbreaks that have shut down cruise liners, and MRSA outbreaks that have ravaged hospitals, day care centers, and schools.
Good hygienic practices that combat disease transfer include regular, vigorous cleaning and disinfection of commonly touched surfaces as well as frequent hand washing. However, this is not enough. A surface can be re-contaminated within a few minutes after it has been cleaned. The problem is as severe as germaphobes suspect, and researchers have found that 80 percent of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. In hospitals, the transfer of disease-causing bacteria results in over 2,000,000 infections each year in the U.S. alone. These infections lead to nearly 100,000 deaths and an added estimated cost to the healthcare system of up to $45 billion.
How can building owners combat this problem and reduce the associated risks? A partial solution can be found in surfaces that inherently fight bacterial contamination. Copper alloys (metals that contain combinations of copper and other elements such as zinc and form new metals such as brass and bronze), have the intrinsic ability to kill bacteria*. These products are trademarked as Antimicrobial Copper. Products made from these metals, such as door hardware and railings, will retain these properties as long as the metal is not coated.
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The antimicrobial effect of copper alloys is so strong and persistent that the federal agency that regulates antimicrobials, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently approved human health marketing claims for these materials. For example, an EPA-registered manufacturer of brass railings can claim that his product is made from a material that kills more than 99.9 percent of bacteria within two hours and continues to kill more than 99 percent of bacteria after repeated contaminations. This registration was unprecedented for a solid material. Previously, only liquids, gases, aerosols and powders could make such claims. Unlike liquid or aerosol disinfectants, the antimicrobial efficacy of Antimicrobial Copper works around the clock. And, since antimicrobial efficacy is inherent to the metal, it will never wear away. A recent clinical trial proved this benefit in the hospital environment and had a positive impact on the well-being of occupants.
What does this all mean to building owners? With the health and well-being of occupants in mind, they now have the positive option to install surfaces that combat bacteria and the associated problems they cause.
* Please see AntimicrobialCopper.com for EPA approved public health claims.