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It Kills Viruses, Fungi and Bacteria Continuously': Could This Metal Hold the Solution to Hospital Superbugs?

"Why wouldn't you use it?"

Copper tubes in a Danish factory. (Image via Andy Putnam/flickr)

We use it for wiring, plumbing, jewelry and currency.

Should we be using it as preventative medicine, too — in hospital safety railings?

Copper tubes in a Danish factory. (Image via Andy Putnam/flickr) Copper tubes in a Danish factory. (Image via Andy Putnam/flickr)

The germ-killing powers of copper have been well-established since ancient times, but besides a few copper doorknobs — shown to kill 95 percent of superbugs like pneumonia and MRSA — the metal is noticeably absent from many medical facilities.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are a breeding ground for disease, with the World Health Organization estimating that "hundreds of millions" of people are infected at medical facilities each year and the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reporting that 1 in 25 inpatients picks up an infection at the hospital.

Copper BioHealth aims to change that.

A startup led by Constanza Correa, 33, Copper BioHealth is working to install copper safety railings on hospital beds in Santiago, Chile, adding an additional layer of germ-slaying material to modern medicine's arsenal.

Correa spoke with NPR earlier this month, stressing the severity of the hospital infection problem and the promise held by copper:

Healthcare-acquired infections are a huge problem. People come to the hospital with a sickness, and they get another one in the hospital. Then they have to stay longer and spend more money on treatment. Sometimes it can cause death. Eighty percent of these infections come from touching hospital surfaces. In the hospital room, the most contaminated surface is the bed rail. It's the most manipulated by medical staff and patients. It's in direct contact with the patient. That's the most critical surface in the room.

Our objective is to decrease the chance of infection due to surface contact. So we replace current bed rails with copper bed rails. It kills viruses, fungi and bacteria continuously.

Correa admitted overhauling equipment with copper can be expensive, which is why she's set up a leasing plan for the four Santiago hospitals currently testing her bed railings.

She said she hopes copper's use in hospitals can soon be expanded to all sorts of things: IV poles, tables, even copper fibers in mattress covers.

"Copper kills everything," Correa said. "Why wouldn't you use it?"

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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