How One Hospital Stopped Hospital-Borne Infections Using Copper

Hospitals are supposed to help sick patients get well. But when people with compromised immune systems are admitted, they sometimes end up becoming even more ill as a result of hospital-borne infections. Now, one Virginia hospital is making good use of established research by utilizing one specific element — copper — in their equipment and bed linens.

In 2011, one published study found that copper surfaces would kill microbes on contact within just a few minutes. Then, a 2012 Sentara Healthcare study prompted Hampton-based Sentara CarePlex Hospital to substitute copper oxide-infused fleece sheets for the standard white sheets normally used on inpatient hospital beds. The study’s authors wanted to see whether using these sheets, along with covering hospital equipment and surfaces with copper, would help to fight germs and reduce the number of infections acquired during hospital stays.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in every 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection on any given day. While catheter-associated urinary tract infections (or CAUTIs) account for more than 30% of healthcare-associated infections reported by acute care hospitals, data from 2011 shows that pneumonia was the most common HAI suffered by patients.

The World Health Organization notes that such infections can make hospital stays much longer and more costly — both to patients and hospitals — while also making recovery more difficult.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Diseases and Radiological Health (CDRH) estimates that 2.5 million hospital beds are in use nationwide, and the sheer volume of surfaces in a hospital increases the potential risk.

So far, Sentara’s switch seems to be doing the trick. At their Hampton location, they’ve used copper-infused linens and put copper on hard surfaces throughout their inpatient areas. They’ve also tested copper-infused patient trays, handrails, bath sinks, and linens as part of a 10-month trial at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk. Officials say that their study is the largest of its kind thus far.

Sentara CarePlex president and administrator Debra Flores says that since implementing these changes, the hospital has successfully reduced those healthcare-associated infections. In fact, copper-infused items helped to reduce some infections by a whopping 83%. The use of copper also helped to lower the amount of multi-drug resistant bacteria by 78%.

The results of the study were published in September of 2016. President and CEO of Sentara Healthcare, Howard P. Kern, noted, “The clinical trial published reflects the Sentara commitment to innovation.”

Officials say that copper-infused bed linens, towels, thermal blankets, and patient gowns — which are produced by Richmond’s Cupron Medical Textiles — will be available at Sentara’s location in Williamsburg as early as next month.

As an added bonus, these copper-infused sheets may allow patients to get much-needed rest. Vicki Green, a CarePlex patient, noted that the last time she was in the hospital, she didn’t sleep well. This time, she felt comfy and cozy with help from these new bed linens.

“They’re smooth and soft,” Green said. “It’s a bonus that they’ll keep me from getting any sicker.”