UCLA medical researchers study copper to help fight hospital staph infections

The bacteria behind staph infections.
The bacteria behind staph infections.
Esther Simpsons/Flickr Creative Commons

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UCLA researchers are going to war against a common, sometimes-deadly hospital bacterial infection. Their weapon of choice? Copper.

Hospital-acquired staph infections are bad news. Each year, they kill thousands of patients and cost the U.S. billions of dollars in longer hospital stays.

They’re caused by a type of bacteria that is one of the most common causes of skin infections in the U.S. But while most of the infections are minor, they can cause serious problems in hospital settings — including infections in surgical wounds, the bloodstream and the urinary tract.

Hospital patients with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk, because the bacteria microbes can survive for extended periods on surfaces that patients commonly touch.

A new study at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center will consider whether copper surfaces, which are known to kill bacteria on contact, might provide the perfect solution.

Researchers will compare copper to an assortment of other surface types, each of which will be sampled for bacteria levels and measured against patient infection rates over a four-year period.