Most Bacteria are No Match for Brass Sheet Metal, Thanks to Copper

Some hospitals and medical facilities have brass and bronze fixtures, from handle bars to their plumbing. This stemmed from a need to control the spread of infection within the facility.

Antimicrobial Copper

To prove the efficacy of the copper-based alloys’ antimicrobial properties, three hospitals in the U.S. participated in a study last year. These were the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC; the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY; and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, also in Charleston.

Groups of patients were confined to either a regular ward or one with bronze and brass fittings. Treatment for these rooms were similar. The results were striking.

“The proportion of patients who developed hospital acquired infections or colonization with bacteria like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was significantly lower among patients in rooms with copper surfaces (7.1 percent) compared with patients in traditional rooms (12.3 percent).”

As the acronym’s meaning goes, MRSA is a “super bug,” a nightmare for health professionals. While cases are rare, experts say this bacteria can be lethal.

What gives copper-based alloys like brass and bronze the ability to combat types of pathogens? Is it the fact that bacteria don’t thrive on non-organic surfaces? Experts believe there’s more to it than settling on an unsettling surface.

Pop That Water Balloon

The events that transpire in the interaction of copper and bacteria is a microscopic version of popping a water balloon. According to the International Copper Association (ICA), copper ions lay siege to the bacteria, rupturing their membrane and draining nutrients and fluids. Attrition is the name of copper’s game.

Researchers call this phenomenon “contact killing.” ICA estimates that copper can kill 99.9 percent of the bacteria in just two hours after making contact.

Demand to Rise

With copper widely considered an “emerging health technology” in North America, the brass and bronze-producing sector is expected to see a peak in demand. The chemical properties of copper don’t change when it becomes quality brass sheet metal. This is because the process of alloy-making instigates a physical change, not chemical.

In other words, copper’s antimicrobial properties will remain in brass and bronze. It may even inherit properties of the very metals it bonds with such as zinc’s durability. Overall, a quality brass channel from producers like Rotax Metals may save lives in a hospital.

(Source: “Antimicrobial copper leads to patient safety,” Digital Journal, June 5, 2014)

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