Practitioners of the millennia-old Ayurvedic medicine of ancient India utilized and documented copper and its alloys for various topical and internal disease treatments, and as a material for pharmaceutical containers and medical instruments.1
Now researchers are looking deeper into copper’s antibacterial properties and its potential to fight infections and diseases.
Copper kills bacteria on contact!
While we are familiar with many chemicals that can kill disease-causing bacteria such as bleach and alcohol, copper has the unique ability to destroy these pathogens on contact without any other special treatment or application.2
This means anything made from copper or is copper plated such as door handles etc will act as a passive disinfectant, continuously killing any bacteria transferred to the surface by human contact.
This type of passive disinfectant reduces the time, management and costs required for cleaning and sanitizing these surfaces. This extraordinary antibacterial property of copper extends to copper alloys such as brass and bronze. Copper and copper alloys are also highly resistant to corrosion, therefore, copper and its alloys are convenient, inexpensive and versatile materials for applying to high-touch surfaces and objects which ordinarily harbour high concentrations of bacteria microorganisms.3
Hospital staff must be constantly vigilant to prevent the transfer of infectious disease to their patients, especially with regard to bacterial infections resistant to medical treatment.
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) estimate infections acquired within hospitals cost billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives each year in the U.S.4
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to control the spread of bacterial infections is because bacteria reproduce and evolve rapidly to produce new strains that become resistant to conventional disinfectants and medical treatment. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one such example.
Copper is antibacterial because it rapidly corrupts bacterial DNA preventing it from reproducing. The speed in which copper kills bacteria prevents bacteria from developing a new strain resistant to copper.5
Copper surfaces can greatly lower the incidence of hospital-acquired infections, which in some cases are fatal.6
While there is an initial cost of replacing or modifying surfaces with copper or copper plating such as handles, trolleys, handrails, benchtops, touch surfaces etc, there are immediate and continuous health benefits for patients and staff, as there are economic benefits too.7
Copper sterilises drinking water from disease-causing bacteria.
Drinking water contaminated with bacteria is a major cause of debilitating infections and deaths, especially in developing countries.8
Copper water containers neutralize many types of deadly bacteria commonly found in drinking water, including E.coli, Salmonella, and the bacteria that causes cholera.9
Even in the developed world, outbreaks of these types of bacteria can and do occur occasionally in the municipal water systems.
Storing drinking water overnight in a copper pot kills bacteria, and is a simple strategy in the fight for safe drinking water and explains why copper has been used for millennia to store water.
While clean water and education are priceless commodities in the prevention of disease and loss of human life, copper’s antibacterial properties can contribute significantly to simple low-cost solutions with life-saving benefits.
Kristine Wagner MHS, CPH
Kristine holds a Master of Health Science in Environmental Health and a Certificate in Risk Science from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a Certified in Public Health Professional by the NBPHE.
She was a Strategic Information Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda supporting HIV/AIDS programs in conjunction with the CDC. She worked as a health scientist at Cardno ChemRisk.
As a student, she conducted environmental health research related to oil development in the Ecuadorian Amazon and wrote her graduate thesis on drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
She is a professional scuba diving instructor (PADI MSDT) and has worked as a diver in Mexico, Thailand, and Turks & Caicos. She also speaks Spanish and French.