Have you been wondering why we infuse all of our neck gaiters and face masks with copper? Then this article is for you! Let's explore why this specific metal works so well against microbes, bacteria, mold, fungus, and illnesses like the coronavirus.
An Element With Powerful Antimicrobial Properties
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers discovered that the coronavirus can survive on glass and stainless steel for days. But after landing on copper, the virus dies within hours. This insight came as no surprise to Bill Keevil, a University of Southampton microbiology researcher. Keevil has been studying copper's antimicrobial effects for more than 20 years. What did surprise him, however, was how long it took for the virus to be vanquished.
Whether it was the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's Disease, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the Swine Flu (H1N1), or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Keevil has watched copper kill several pathogens. In 2015, Keevil even tested copper against Coronavirus 229E, a relative of the coronavirus that humanity is battling today. Within minutes, the copper had eradicated any trace of it.
Keevil finds the ubiquity of stainless steel in kitchens and bathrooms ironic. People assume that this means cleanliness. But during tests, stainless steel and glass surfaces allowed Coronavirus 229E to survive for five days. In contrast, copper seems to disinfect merely by existing.
Copper's antimicrobial properties may seem like news, but people have actually been employing its disinfectant powers for quite some time now. "Copper is truly a gift from Mother Nature in that the human race has been using it for over eight millennia," explains Michael G. Schmidt, a Medical University of South Carolina microbiology and immunology professor. Schmidt studies copper in healthcare environments.
Smith's Papyrus, the oldest medical document in history, has the first recorded use of copper for killing infections. This account was linked to an Egyptian doctor around 1700 B.C., but it's based on data that goes as far back as 3200 B.C. Egyptians even denoted copper in hieroglyphs for the ankh symbol, which represents eternal life. But it wasn't only the Egyptians who were aware of copper's power.
The Phoenicians would often prevent battle wound infections by inserting bronze sword shavings into their injuries. And there are records that the Chinese were using copper coins as far back as 1600 B.C. to treat heart, stomach, and bladder problems. Thousands of years ago, mothers realized that their children didn't get diarrhea as frequently if they drank from copper vessels. This knowledge was passed down to subsequent generations but somehow got lost in history.
But the fact that we forgot has no effect on copper's capabilities. For instance, Keevil's research team checked old copper railings at Grand Central Terminal in New York City a few years ago. They found that its antimicrobial properties were working just as they did during installation day over 100 years ago. Keevil says, "This stuff is durable and the antimicrobial effect doesn't go away."
How Exactly Do Copper's Antimicrobial Effects Work?
The secret behind copper's microbe-killing power lies in its specific atomic structure. Copper has a free electron in its outer orbital shell that makes it a great conductor. It also makes it likely to take part in oxidation-reduction reactions. For this reason, Schmidt considers it a "molecular oxygen grenade."
When copper comes into contact with a microbe, its ions act like missiles and blast the pathogen. This not only prevents cell respiration but also punches holes in the cell membrane, which accelerates the death of microbes. Perhaps most importantly, copper's ions actually seek out and destroy the DNA and RNA inside of the bacteria or virus. This prevents any drug-resistant superbug mutations.
Healthcare Is Finally Beginning To Embrace This Special Metal
During a 43-month-long investigation, Schmidt found that copper alloys on medical facility equipment such as bedside rails, tray tables, and chair armrests reduced healthcare-associated infection by 58 percent compared to routine protocols. In a two-year study comparing plastic hospital beds with copper equivalents, Schmidt found that the plastic surfaces exceeded accepted risk standards in almost 90 percent of samples. For the copper counterpart, only 9 percent of samples exceeded the standards.
Around the world, the healthcare sector and other industries are starting to realize the amazing antimicrobial benefits of using copper. After a 2016 clinical trial reported a 78 percent reduction in drug-resistant germs, the Sentara Hospital system in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region made copper surfaces the standard for tables and bed rails across 13 facilities. Similarly, Poland and France have also begun installing copper-impregnated surfaces in their hospitals. And in Peru and Chile, where a large amount of copper is produced, the metal is being used in public transit systems as well as hospitals.
We're happy to see the world starting to embrace this special metal, especially during this turbulent time of the pandemic. Next time you renovate your bathroom or kitchen, forget about stainless steel. Instead, consider copper! Your health will thank you for it.
Looking for copper-infused face masks and neck gaiters? Stop by our shop!