Copper has the properties to destroy the "superbug" methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) - a bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics. Frequently touched surfaces in busy areas -- such as hospitals, transport hubs and public buildings - may help spread MRSA.
Bacteria deposited on a surface by one person touching it, or via contaminated body fluids, can be picked up by subsequent users and spread to other surfaces, potentially causing thousands of infections worldwide. This new study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, demonstrated that MRSA die on copper surfaces by a multifaceted attack from copper ions and reactive oxygen species (ROS).
‘Copper targets various cellular sites, not only killing bacterial and viral pathogens, but also rapidly destroying their nucleic acid genetic material so there is no chance of mutation.’
"Our latest research shows that in simulated fingertip contamination of surfaces with millions of MRSA or MSSA, the cells can remain alive for long periods on non-antimicrobial surfaces - such as stainless steel - but are killed even more rapidly than droplet contamination on copper and copper alloys," said lead study author Sarah Warnes from the University of Southampton in England.
"Exposure to copper damages the bacterial respiration and DNA, resulting in irreversible cell breakdown and death," Warnes noted. Touch surfaces made from solid antimicrobial copper are already used by hospitals, schools, mass transit hubs, sports facilities and offices around the world to reduce the spread of infections.
"It is important to understand the mechanism of copper's antimicrobial efficacy because micro-organisms have evolved various mechanisms to convey resistance to disinfectants and antibiotics," study co-author Bill Keevil from the University of Southampton, pointed out.
"Our work shows that copper targets various cellular sites, not only killing bacterial and viral pathogens, but also rapidly destroying their nucleic acid genetic material so there is no chance of mutation occurring and nothing to pass on to other microbes, a process called horizontal gene transfer," Keevil explained. "Consequently, this helps prevent breeding the next generation of superbug," Keevil said.