NEW research from the University of Southampton in the U.K. shows that copper can prevent horizontal transmission of bacterial genes that have contributed to the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant infections worldwide.
Horizontal gene transfer in bacteria is largely responsible for the development of antibiotic resistance, which has led to an increasing number of difficult-to-treat health care-associated infections, an announcement said.
The newly published paper, which appears in the journal mBio, shows that while gene transfer can take place in the environment on frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, carts and tables made from stainless steel, copper prevents this process from occurring and rapidly kills bacteria on contact.
Lead author Bill Keevil, chair in environmental health care at the University of Southampton, said, "While studies have focused on (horizontal gene transfer) in vivo, this work investigates whether the ability of pathogens to persist in the environment, particularly on touch surfaces, may also play an important role."
In this study, "we show prolonged survival of multi-drug-resistant Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae on stainless steel surfaces for several weeks. However, rapid death of both antibiotic-resistant strains and destruction of plasmid and genomic DNA were observed on copper and copper alloy surfaces, which could be useful in the prevention of infection spread and gene transfer," he said.
Keevil added, "We know many human pathogens survive for long periods in the hospital environment. ... What we have shown in this work is the potential for strategically placed antimicrobial copper touch surfaces to not only break the chain of contamination but also actively reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance developing at the same time."
Beyond the health care environment, copper also has a wider role to play in infection control.
"Copper touch surfaces have promise for preventing antibiotic resistance transfer in public buildings and mass transportation systems, which lead to local and -- in the case of jet travel -- rapid worldwide dissemination of multi-drug-resistant superbugs as soon as they appear," Keevil said.
This research offers additional evidence that deploying copper and copper-containing alloys as touch surfaces provides extra protection alongside standard hygiene practices, the announcement said.