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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 08:43 GMT
Copper tested in MRSA fightback
Copper fitting at Selly Oak Hospital
The hospital will trial the copper fittings for 18 months
Stainless steel door handles and taps at a hospital are being replaced with copper ones in an effort to reduce the presence of the superbug MRSA.

Scientists think properties found in copper can reduce its presence, as opposed to stainless steel, a commonly used metal in health centres.

Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital is swapping steel for copper in an 18-month trial to test the findings.

At least 5,000 people are likely to die every year from the MRSA infection.

If you look back in literature the Egyptians were using copper thousands of years ago to treat infections
Professor Bill Keevil, Southampton University

According to the National Audit Office, 300,000 patients every year pick up an infection in UK hospitals.

A trial spokesman said 80% of MRSA transmission came from contact with surfaces such as door handles, bathroom taps, toilet flush handles and grab rails.

To test the theory one general medical ward is having copper installed in preparation for the trial while a similar ward will retain its traditional fittings.

Even pens used by staff will be copper alloy.

If the trial proves successful, it is likely hospitals across Europe will switch to copper.

'Suffocates germs'

Professor Tom Elliott, the trust's deputy medical director, said: "Potentially it is very exciting if we find that copper actually works in a clinical environment."

The tests were originally carried out by scientists in Southampton.

Professor Bill Keevil, director of environmental healthcare at Southampton University, said that copper had a property which suffocates the germs.

"The metal reacts with the bacteria and inhibits their respiration - in effect it stops them breathing.

"In fact if you look back in the literature the Egyptians were using copper thousands of years ago to treat infections."

It is hoped copper will not just kill MRSA. The newer threat, the resistant Clostridium difficile, can also be killed according to preliminary tests.

Scientists are also hoping it could be used as a possible defence against bird flu.

A spokesman for Birmingham's NHS trust said Selly Oak had been chosen for the Copper Clinical Trial as it was a multi-specialist centre and had an advanced microbiology centre.


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