Potential Use of Copper Surfaces to Reduce Survival of Epidemic Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in the Healthcare Environment

Noyce JO, Michels H, Keevil CW. J Hosp Infect. 2006 Jul;63(3):289-297.

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Epidemic meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (EMRSA) emerged in the early 1980s with EMRSA-15 and -16 being the most prevalent strains within the UK. MRSA transmission between patients is largely via the hands of healthcare workers, and contamination of the hospital environment may occur. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of copper and brass to reduce the viability of air-dried deposits of three MRSA strains [MRSA (NCTC 10442), EMRSA-1 (NCTC 11939) and EMRSA-16 (NCTC 13143)] compared with stainless steel. MRSA and EMRSA [107 colony-forming units (CFU)] were inoculated on to coupons (1 cm × 1 cm) of copper, brass or stainless steel and incubated at either 22 ºC or 4 ºC for various time periods. Viability was determined by resuspending removed CFUs and plating out on tryptone soy agar plates in addition to staining with the respiratory indicator fluorochrome 5-cyano-2,3-ditolyl tetrazolium. On pure copper surfaces, 107 MRSA, EMRSA-1 and EMRSA-16 were completely killed after 45, 60 and 90 min, respectively, at 22 ºC. In contrast, viable organisms for all three strains were detected on stainless steel (grade 304) after 72 h at 22 ºC. At 4 ºC, complete kill was achieved on copper for all three strains within 6 h. The results demonstrate an antimicrobial effect of copper on MRSA, EMRSA-1 and -16 in contrast to stainless steel. Consequently, the contemporary application of stainless steel in hospital environments for work surfaces and door furniture is not recommended.