A Birmingham hospital study has revealed surfaces made with materials containing copper can kill numerous micro-organisms, including MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C diff).

This could lead to the number of patients, staff and visitors that come into contact with the superbugs being cut, the report revealed.

The 18-month-study at Selly Oak Hospital found copper items had up to 95 per cent fewer micro-organisms, including superbugs, when compared to those on surfaces made of stainless steel.

Professor Tom Elliott, consultant microbiologist and deputy medical director at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said: “What this must mean is the risk of picking up an infection is reduced, because we know one of the vehicles where organisms can spread from one surface to another is by touch. The results are very exciting. The findings of a 90 to 95 per cent killing of those organisms, even after a busy day on a medical ward with items being touched by numerous people, is remarkable. It may well offer us another mechanism for trying to defeat the spread of infection.”

In the first clinical study of its kind, using items containing copper – including taps, door push-plates, handles and a bedside trolley – found MRSA was killed within an hour of coming into contact. No C diff was found, but further testing found while copper contact killed its growing cells, washing with standard hospital detergent was needed to eliminate C diff spores, what most people come into contact with who contract the superbug.

During the study, funded by the Copper Development Association, these items were swabbed twice daily, with similar items made with conventional materials, and samples were taken to Aston University.

After five weeks, the items were swapped and tested for another five-week period. The ‘crossover’ was designed to eliminate potential bias caused by the items being in different locations. Prof Elliott, who presented his findings at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington DC recently, collaborated with Professor Peter Lambert, at Aston University, and Professor Bill Keevil of Southampton University.

He said: “I have been a consultant microbiologist for decades and have got some experience in terms of fighting infections. This is the first time I have seen anything like copper in terms of the effect it will have on the environment.

“We have talked about different agents in the past, cleaning agents like chlorine and hydrogen peroxide, which have an immediate effect but not a long lasting effect like copper.”