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Copper Capable of Destroying Norovirus: A Study

May 29, 2013 12:15 PM EDT
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Copper and copper alloys are capable of destroying the highly-infectious norovirus, according to a study by researchers at the University of Southampton.

Bill Keevil, Chair in Environmental Healthcare of Southampton and lead researcher of the report, presented his team's findings at the American Society for Microbiology’s 2013 General meeting where he demonstrated that the virus was most effectively killed by those objects containing at least 60 percent copper.

Based on these findings, the researchers believe that by making high-risk objects like hand rails from copper, a major avenue through which the virus is spread could be eliminated.

Moreover, Keevil explained, more thorough cleaning is not an adequate replacement for those looking to keep the virus at bay given that it is 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,” he said. “Copper surfaces, like door handles and taps, can disrupt the cycle and lower the risk of outbreaks.”

Situations Keevil perceives the study most relevant to are those involving a large amount of people as well as places where diseases are easily spread.

“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 vomiting and diarrhea,” he said.

This is not the first time copper’s been shown to have the ability to prevent disease: a study funded by the Department of Defense and presented at the 2011 World Health Organization Conference on Infection Prevention and Control demonstrated the metal’s ability to reduce the presence of bacteria by nearly 100 percent and decrease the risk of infection by more than 40 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is the most common culprit behind acute gastroenteritis in the United Stated, causing 21 million illnesses and as many as 800 deaths a year in the United States.

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