Doctors: Copper linens could protect hospital patients

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Some hospital patients in Norfolk and Virginia Beach are lying in some strange looking linens, and it’s all part of a study that may one day save your life.

Sentara and Eastern Virginia Medical School are conducting the world’s largest clinical trial testing the power of copper to kill life-threatening infections. 10 On Your Side went to Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk Wednesday to see the study in action.

When Maline Beebe checked into Sentara Leigh, right away she noticed something strange: “I just thought it was odd that the sheets were brown.”

Photos: Study tests the power of copper

And that’s not all. She questioned whether her bedside table and sinks were even clean because they didn’t have that shiny glean, that clean surfaces typically have. The reason they look so different is because they are infused with copper.

“We’ve known since antiquity that there are certain metals and properties of metals that kill germs,” said Dr. Scott Miller

But not until recently did scientists figure out a way to get the germ fighting part of copper into everyday products. Remember the miners in Chile who were trapped underground in 2010? They got terrible foot infections, and a Richmond-based company sent some copper socks down the shaft.

When they emerged, “their feet were in tremendous shape, so the copper did work,” Dr. Miller said.

Miller is hopeful the same technology will work to protect patients from life-threatening infections, like MRSA.

“I’m tickled pink that I get to be at the hospital where this is being trialed,” he said.

It’s estimated that 400,000 patients a year get MRSA and other infections in hospitals — some of them even die. But because studies show copper is 99.9 percent effective in killing germs within two hours, it is being put in things nurses and patients touch often, like towels, linens and hard surfaces.

Dr. Paul Marik assures the element it’s not hard on the body: “The EPA has determined that copper is not toxic to humans, and patients say it’s not hard to the touch either.”

“When you look at them, you think it’s going to be, you know, really rough, but they actually feel pretty good,” Beebe said.

Doctors say the copper’s germ-fighting power will last a lifetime in the hard surfaces, and the linens have gone through hundreds of washes and are still effective. And if the copper-infused materials work the way doctors hope, it could change hospital design forever.

The study began a few weeks ago and will last for a year.

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