IN TIMES WHEN TAKING MEASURES TO PREVENT DISEASE AND ILLNESS IS MORE CRUCIAL THAN EVER, ONE METAL MAY PAVE THE WAY FOR SIGNIFICANT CHANGES IN STOPPING INFECTIONS EVERY DAY: COPPER.
The fact of the matter is on any surface we touch, there reside microbes that, if you don’t take necessary measures to eliminate, can live on for weeks – and even months. Such microbes can be a form of bacteria or mould, including pathogens like Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which according to BMC Infectious Diseases research, can survive on dry surfaces for as long as seven months in total.
Therefore, we rely on the use of antimicrobial substances to combat these sorts of problems. As for the term ‘antimicrobial’, this describes a range of products capable of reducing and counter attacking the presence of microbes, such as antibiotics, disinfectants, and also technologically enhanced compounds like antimicrobial copper.
WHAT DOES ANTIMICROBIAL TECHNOLOGY DO?
THE SCIENCE OF ANTIMICROBIAL SOLUTIONS IS FASCINATING, INDEED. SUCH ITEMS ARE NOT JUST DESIGNED TO REMOVE MICROBES FROM A GIVEN SURFACE, BUT ALSO, ACTIVELY PREVENT THEM FROM MULTIPLYING ONCE THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH THE SURFACE.
Products that are protected by antimicrobial technology can negatively impact harmful pathogens through firstly, oxidative damage. By means of increased levels of reactive oxygen, this results in damage done to the microbe’s internal systems.
Two other types of damage are key to the effectiveness of antimicrobial technology: protein and cell membrane damage, which can lead to the displacement of essential nutrients of affected microbes. It’s these destructive works that compromise both the structural integrity and energy production of those microbes. Lastly, there is DNA interference, by which the antimicrobial solution disrupts their genetic material and ultimately ‘blocks’ their opportunity to replicate themselves.
HISTORY & EFFICACY OF ANTIMICROBIAL COPPER
THE REMARKABLE USE OF COPPER FOR HEALING AND CLEANSING ACTUALLY DATES FURTHER BACK THAN MOST PEOPLE THINK.
As early as 2600 and 2200 B.C., the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians understood how well copper warded off infections, which was why soldiers in those days used shaving from their bronze swords in order to sterilise battle wounds and speed up healing. Moreover, the Aztecs and Hippocrates in Greece utilised copper carbonate and oxide – infused with substances like honey, olive paste, and sodium carbonate – for treating skin infections. Copper was also used to cure health problems in ancient India and China, and nowadays, it’s an essential component of Ayurveda medicine.
Fast-forward to 2008, the year when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the registration of over 250 antimicrobial copper alloys. At this point, it was made clear that copper, together with bronze and brass, was recognised as a highly effective material for killing harmful (and potentially lethal) organisms, despite the fact that steel would continue to be predominantly used for the majority of surfaces in public areas and buildings such as hospitals.
Also, antimicrobial copper and its ability to combat disease-causing pathogens were thoroughly studied by Professor Bill Keevil, a researcher at the University of Southampton in the UK, for more than twenty years. In 2015, Keevil tested copper surfaces, alongside other common surfaces like glass and stainless steel, to determine how long a virus known as Coronavirus 229E (a close cousin of COVID-19) could last on them. As it turned out, copper surfaces dismantled the virus in a matter of minutes, whereas the virus survived and stayed infectious for five days on glass or steel.
The reason for copper’s antimicrobial capabilities lies in the aggressive nature of its copper ions once microbes encounter them. What they do better than ions of other metals is prevent cell respiration – suffocating these particles upon contact – while either punching holes in their membranes or disrupting the viral coat. Additionally, these ions also work their way into both DNA and RNA found in each microbe, destroying them in a short period of time. Hence, such action stops mutations from occurring, which aids in preventing these pathogens from developing copper resistance.
WHY THE USE OF COPPER ISN’T MORE WIDESPREAD
GIVEN ALL THE RESEARCH AND INFORMATION THAT HAS BEEN REVEALED ON ANTIMICROBIAL COPPER, SOME MIGHT QUESTION WHY IT STILL ISN’T A COMMON FIXTURE IN SETTINGS LIKE HOSPITALS.
While there are more hospitals installing copper fittings, the fact is that a good number simply aren’t aware of their extremely efficacious, microbe-eliminating properties.
There continues to be a preference towards stainless steel and silver, as they are brighter metals and easier to keep “spotless”, even though science proves that neither outperforms copper as an antimicrobial surface. Steel, in particular, can suffer from scratches and microscopic indentations over time, and these tiny openings yield enough room for some microbes and superbugs to settle in and survive routine cleaning procedures. Another possible factor is concern regarding costs. Some hospitals might perceive hand-sanitising gel dispensers as more affordable options, despite the fact these gels aren’t always able to kill all organisms efficiently.
Nevertheless, findings from studies conducted worldwide cannot be disregarded. With antimicrobial copper applied to surfaces frequently touched in ICUs and hospital wards (e.g. door handles, taps, over-the-bed tables, call buttons), there can be up to a 90% reduction in the total number of live bacteria on such surfaces. Furthermore, bear in mind that while cleaning in these busy areas may occur 1-3 times a day, copper surfaces are active 24/7 in destroying harmful organisms, including superbugs and organisms that currently have no vaccine available, such as the norovirus or “winter vomiting bug”.
Antimicrobial copper is a vital tool for society when it comes to our ability to fight disease. At AusAir, we recognise this, which is why our reusable face masks are designed to be kept clean and fresh while inside the accompanying copper-infused carry bag. With copper embedded into the fabric of the bag, you can safely store your mask when you’re on the go, all while knowing it’ll remain in good condition. We also utilise antimicrobial copper technology in our AirWeave filter range, for the inside and outside of the filter.