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Here’s Why Copper Could Be the Future of Hospital Linens

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Close photo of the bed in the clinic

Imagine being admitted to a local hospital for a routine procedure only to be infected by something like C. diff or MRSA. Unfortunately, such scenarios are frequent in American hospitals. The rates of infectious diseases in hospital settings continues to be a problem, yet copper may end up being a big part of the solution.

According to the CDC, roughly one in every 31 hospital patients experiences at least one healthcare associated infection (HAI). Despite efforts to improve hygiene among doctors, nurses, and patients, infectious diseases continue to spread thanks to bed linens, patient gowns, and staff uniforms.

The good news is that infusing copper into hospital textiles has proven effective as a method of controlling HAIs. A study recently published by The Journal of Hospital Infection shows just how powerful copper is.

Dramatic Improvement in Multiple Hospitals

The study in question was a joint effort between a textile company and an East Coast hospital system with facilities in Virginia and North Carolina. The study involved more than 1,000 patient beds covering more than 175,000 patient days.

Six different Sentara hospitals participated in the study by receiving copper infused bed linens and patient gowns from their linen provider. Patients were then followed and results tracked over 90, 180, and 240-day periods. The results were stunning:

  • 61% reduction in C. diff infections over 90 days
  • 41% reduction in C. diff infections over 180 days
  • 43% reduction in C. diff infections over 240 days.

When accounting for both C. diff and MDRO (MRSA and VRE) infections, the results were equally impressive: 60%, 40%, and 37% respectively. The fact that the results were observed across six separate facilities proves that copper-infused linens work at combating HAIs.

The Secret Behind Copper

Knowing what we know about copper, it is hard to believe that more linen manufactures don’t infuse copper in their Hospital linens. According to The Hospitalist, ancient cultures stored water in copper pots specifically to prevent illness. Furthermore, history reveals that copper has been known for its antimicrobial properties for thousands of years.

So what’s the secret behind copper’s infection fighting strength? Its electrical properties. When bacteria come in contact with copper, the copper surface steals electrons from the bacteria. This electron transfer ultimately results in the death of the bacteria.

In short, bacteria cannot live on a copper surface. So by infusing copper in hospital linens, manufacturers are creating sheets and patient gowns that don’t spread bacterial infection. The fact that copper works so well with bed linens and patient gowns suggests that it would work equally well for scrubs, lab coats, and so forth.

The Future of Hospital Linens

Alsco, a nationwide uniform and linen rental company, says that copper-infused hospital linens are not yet the industry norm. But they could be in a few years. With definitive proof now at hand, it’s hard to argue against infusing bed linens, patient gowns, and staff uniforms with copper.

Assuming that copper-infused textiles become the norm for hospital linens, we could begin seeing a dramatic reduction in certain kinds of HAIs within the next several years. Patients wouldn’t worry so much about infection and hospitals could redirect some of the efforts they now put toward stopping the spread of infection into other pursuits.

Who knew something as simple as copper can stop the spread of C. diff and MRSA? Apparently, some ancient cultures knew of the power of copper thousands of years ago. We are now only just getting caught up. But, as they say, better late than never.

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