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Originally published November 7 2014

Copper surfaces could be crucial to stopping Ebola outbreak

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Replacing more hospital surfaces with copper -- especially frequently touched ones such as doorknobs -- could play a crucial role in preventing the spread of Ebola in the United States and other wealthy countries, studies have shown.

"Based on our research on viruses of similar genetic structure, we expect copper surfaces to inactivate Ebola, and to help control the spread of this virus if employed for publicly-used touch surfaces," said researcher Bill Keevil of the University of Southampton, England.

As of October 29, there were 13,567 confirmed cases of Ebola in the ongoing outbreak, and at least 4,960 deaths. Health officials now expect that there will be 1,000 new cases of the disease every week -- the equivalent of every prior Ebola outbreak put together, every two weeks.

However, experts widely consider these numbers to be unreliable, noting that poor reporting is likely missing cases of both infection and death. The real numbers are probably at least twice as high as the official estimates.

In the United States, there have been three confirmed cases of Ebola, as of November 4. A total of 53 people believed to have had contact with infected persons are still under active surveillance.

New measures needed to contain Ebola

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual, either through direct contact of via contact with contaminated surfaces. But so far, current practices such as hand washing, surface disinfection and quarantines have proved unable to stop the spread of the disease.

Unfortunately, a shortage of labs with appropriate facilities has made it difficult to do direct research on the best ways to disinfect surfaces contaminated with Ebola. For that reason, the CDC has asked hospitals to incorporate disinfectant procedures known to be effective against viruses that either are closely related to Ebola or are also known to be resistant to standard procedures. These viruses include norovirus, adenovirus and poliovirus.

Numerous peer-reviewed studies by Keevil and colleagues have shown that norovirus is rapidly and thoroughly inactivated upon exposure to copper, and German studies have shown that copper is also effective against other viruses. Other studies have shown that surfaces made from so-called "antimicrobial" copper (pure copper or copper alloys) have an 80 percent lower rate of microbial contamination than surfaces made from other materials.

Copper kills viruses, superbugs

For many years, health researchers have been interested in the potential of copper to help stem the spread of dangerous infections, particularly in hospital settings. Because microbes are killed merely by contact with the copper itself and no further action is required by healthcare staff, antimicrobial copper is considered a "no touch" solution. Experts have suggested that hospitals could drastically hamper the spread of diseases including Ebola by replacing frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, faucets and light switches with antimicrobial copper.

Copper has also shown great promise against other superbugs, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In a 2012 study also conducted by Keevil and colleagues, and published in the journal mBio, antimicrobial copper surfaces were found to kill antibiotic-resistant strains of both Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, whereas stainless steel did not. Copper also destroyed the bacteria's DNA, suggesting that it could also help prevent the spread of drug resistance to other species.

"We know many human pathogens survive for long periods in the hospital environment and can lead to infection, expensive treatment, blocked beds and death," Keevil said. "What we have shown in this work is the potential for strategically-placed antimicrobial copper touch surfaces to not only break the chain of contamination, but also actively reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance developing at the same time."

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