Three US hospitals are to test whether drug-resistant bacteria survive better on stainless steel or on copper.
Each year about 1.7 million Americans develop infections while they are in hospital and almost 100,000 of them die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scientists have traditionally believed that better hygiene levels are the key to controlling the spread of hospital infections, but medical manufacturers are increasingly looking at other ways to minimise risks.
The new study will test whether three drug-resistant strains,
Staphylococcus, enterococci and acinetobacter, are affected by being exposed to copper.
The researchers will initially swab intensive care wards at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Medical University of South Carolina and Charleston’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in order to find areas where the germs are prevalent.
The hospitals will then substitute copper for some germ-prone surfaces in those rooms, and track if the change makes a difference.
The study aims to follow up work carried out in Britain last year.
In the earlier tests, researchers discovered that drug-resistant staph germs survived for three days on stainless steel plates kept at room temperature, but they found no sign of the germs on pure copper after 90 minutes.
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