Findings from a research partnership between Grinnell College and Grinnell Regional Medical Center could enable health care systems to reduce the rate of hospital-acquired infections.

According to a new study published today in the American Journal of Infection Control, using copper alloy materials in a hospital setting substantially decreased the hospital's bacterial burden, which could reduce the number of infections.
Health care-associated infections are a serious concern in the medical industry. Of the 35.1 million discharges of inpatients in the U.S. each year, an estimated one in 25 patients admitted to a hospital contracts a health care-associated infection. In 2011, an estimated 10 percent of the 722,000 patients who contracted HAIs died from the infection.

The new study shows for the first time that copper maintains the reduced bacterial load in both occupied rooms and clean, unoccupied rooms. The research found significantly fewer bacteria on copper alloy products such as grab bars, toilet flush valves, IV poles, switches, keyboards, sinks and dispensers.

The study was conducted by Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology at Grinnell College, and a research team with undergraduate students Queenster Nartey and Justin Vaverka.

Hinsa-Leasure's team conducted research over 18 months at Grinnell College and GRMC with more than 1,500 samples. During the study, patient rooms were cleaned daily and subjected to a final, or terminal, cleaning upon patient discharge. High-touch areas were swabbed in occupied and unoccupied rooms and aerobic bacterial counts were determined for comparison purposes.

For the research, half of the patient rooms at GRMC were fitted with copper alloy and its germ-killing properties on high-touch surfaces. Because of the research findings, additional rooms will soon have the same life-saving features to reduce risks of acquiring an infection while admitted at the hospital.
"This has been an extremely thrilling research opportunity for Grinnell College and GRMC," said said Todd Linden, GRMC president and CEO. "As a trustee for Grinnell College, I want to expand the opportunity for students to participate in real-world research that has such far reaching practical impact."