Copper the pinkish red metal, which was in use even in ancient civilizations, is now been increasingly considered in modern day hospital settings.
Scientists of the NHS who are trying to root out MRSA and other superbugs, which are taking over many hospitals across U.K, are planning to put the anti- bacterial properties of this metal to use.
AdvertisementSelly Oaks hospital in Birmingham, which is part of the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Trust, is part of an 18- month project, to try out the biostatic qualities of copper.
The hospital will now be replacing stainless steel fittings like taps, handles, flush handles, grab rails etc. with copper knobs, copper push plates etc. Even the pens the staffs use will be coated with copper alloy.
Says Professor Tom Elliott, the hospital trust's deputy medical director, "Potentially it is very, very exciting if we find that copper actually works in a clinical environment following the laboratory tests."
The laboratory results have been striking. MRSA bacteria remained active for days on stainless steel but on brass they died in less than five hours and on pure copper the superbugs were eliminated in 30 minutes.
The tests have showed that copper can also tackle the Clostridium difficile bug.
The director of the environmental healthcare unit at Southampton University, Professor Bill Keevil, says that copper suffocates the germs.
"The metal reacts with the bacteria and inhibits their respiration - in effect it stops them breathing", he opines.
The NHS has made halting the spread of MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections a priority. National Audit Office figures show 300,000 patients pick up infections in hospital each year and 5,000 die as a result. The cost to the NHS is estimated at a billion pounds per year.
About 80% of MRSA transmission is through surface contact.
Scientists are also considering wider medical applications, including using copper as a possible defense against bird flu.
Experiments by the Southampton team have already shown that the metal can kill the human flu virus.
Although probably best known for its use as an electrical conductor or in pipes, the healing power of copper has been known for thousands of years.
The Pharaohs used copper to sterilize wounds and drinking water, while the Aztecs used it to treat skin conditions.
Hopefully, the superbugs will meet their match in this versatile metal.
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