Reducing Healthcare Acquired Infection Rates at Hospitals with Antimicrobial Copper

September 20, 2016

Healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) are a leading cause of death in Canada and cost the Canadian healthcare system more than $4 billion every year, according to CHAIR Canada (Coalition for Healthcare Acquired Infection Reduction). One in nine hospital patients will contract an infection while receiving care in Canada, and approximately 8,000 - 12,000 of those patients will die as a result.

Copper’s unique antimicrobial properties can help address this challenge. When installed on high touch surfaces such as door handles, hospital bed rails and intravenous poles, copper can continuously eliminate 99.9% of harmful bacteria. Both Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have registered copper as an antimicrobial product. In addition to being a major copper producer, Teck is helping expand the use of antimicrobial copper in healthcare.

Using Antimicrobial Copper at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH)
In April 2016, the newly redeveloped Intensive Care Unit at VGH was completed, supported by a $2.5-million donation from Teck. As part of this redevelopment, the VGH Intensive Care Unit was the first healthcare facility in Canada to outfit horizontal surfaces – nursing station desks and counters inside the patient’s room – with a copper surface material to reduce bacteria. This has the potential to significantly reduce the spread of healthcare-acquired infections in the ICU and save lives.

“Canada has the highest rate of all hospital acquired infection rates in developed countries at 10.5%. An 80% reduction in HAIs could save approximately 8,000 lives and $3.2 – $4 billion each year in healthcare spending,” said Richard Dixon, Deputy Chairman, CHAIR Canada. “Using antimicrobial copper at VGH is a great example of the many initiatives across Canada working to reduce HAIs.”  

Studying the Effectiveness of Antimicrobial Copper
Given that the use of antimicrobial copper in hospitals is relatively new, Vancouver-based researchers are studying the effectiveness of using the metal to reduce bacteria rates among patients and staff. 

Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, the Regional Director for Infection Control at Vancouver Coastal Heath, and her colleagues are conducting a pilot in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at VGH with support from BC Genomics and CHAIR Canada. Their pilot will evaluate bacteria levels in bone marrow transplant patients, in addition to hospital staff and their environment, when placed in two different rooms: a regular patient room and a room re-engineered with copper nickel alloys on 14 high-touch surfaces. The bathrooms in the rooms with copper are outfitted a UV light system that also reduces bacteria.  

With final results expected in 2017, the study aims to improve infection control practice and ultimately reduce healthcare-acquired infections at VGH. 


First Published on September 20, 2016