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Copper kills norovirus

Researchers recommend care settings incorporate antimicrobial surfaces containing copper

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Copper and copper alloys rapidly destroy norovirus, the highly-infectious sickness bug, according to research conducted by the University of Southampton published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Up to 3,000 people are admitted to hospital per year in England because of norovirus, and the impact of the bug, for which there is no specific treatment or vaccine, costs the NHS around £100 million per year. Outbreaks regularly shut down hospital wards and care homes, which require expensive deep-cleaning, cause additional treatment costs and result in lost working days for staff who are infected.

The Southampton research reported rapid inactivation of murine norovirus on alloys, containing over 60 per cent copper, at room temperature but no reduction of infectivity on stainless steel dry surfaces in simulated wet fomite and dry touch contamination. The rate of inactivation was initially very rapid and proportional to the copper content of alloy tested. Viral inactivation was not as rapid on brass as previously observed for bacteria but copper-nickel alloy was very effective. Copper alloys have previously been shown to be effective antimicrobial surfaces against a range of bacteria and fungi.

Lead researcer Sarah Warnes, from the Centre for Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, says: “The use of antimicrobial surfaces containing copper in clinical and community environments, such as cruise ships and care facilities, could help to reduce the spread of this highly infectious and costly pathogen.”

She added: “Copper alloys, although they provide a constant killing surface, should always be used in conjunction with regular and efficient cleaning and decontamination regimes using non-chelating reagents that could inhibit the copper ion activity.”

Co-researcher Professor Bill Keevil, from the University’s Institute for Life Sciences, said: “The virus can remain infectious on solid surfaces and is also resistant to many cleaning solutions. That means it can spread to people who touch these surfaces, causing further infections and maintaining the cycle of infection. Copper surfaces, like door handles and taps, can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks.”

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