Copper found to kill norovirus bugs on touch surfaces

New research from the University of Southampton suggests copper surfaces could help control outbreaks in hospitals and care homes

Trials are continuing to support the use of copper touch surfaces for infection control in hospitals

New research from the University of Southampton shows that copper and copper alloys are effective in rapidly destroying norovirus, a highly-infectious sickness bug that closes hospital wards each year.

The virus can be contracted from contaminated food or water, person-to-person contact, and contact with contaminated surfaces, meaning surfaces made from copper could effectively shut down one avenue of infection.

Worldwide, norovirus is responsible for more than 267 million cases of acute gastroenteritis every year. There is no specific treatment or vaccine, and outbreaks regularly shut down hospital wards and care homes, requiring expensive deep cleaning, incurring additional treatment costs, and resulting in lost days when staff are infected.

Professor Bill Keevil, chairman of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton and lead researcher into the effect of copper on bugs, presented his latest work at the American Society for Microbiology's 2013 General Meeting last week.

The presentation stated that norovirus was rapidly destroyed on copper and its alloys, with those containing more than 60% copper proving particularly effective. The contamination model used was designed to simulate fingertip-touch contamination of surfaces.

Professor Keevil said: “Copper alloy surfaces can be employed in high-risk areas such as cruise ships and care homes, where norovirus outbreaks are hard to control because infected people can't help but contaminate the environment with explosive vomiting and diarrhoea.

“'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.”