Photo: House of Antique Hardware
Brass door knobs, handles and handrails should be brought back into common use in public places to help combat superbugs, according to scientists.Researchers have discovered that copper and alloys made from the metal, including brass, can prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria from spreading.
Plastic and stainless steel surfaces, which are now widely used in hospitals and public settings, allow bacteria to survive and spread when people touch them.
Even if the bacteria die, DNA that gives them resistance to antibiotics can survive and be passed on to other bacteria on these surfaces. Copper and brass, however, can kill the bacteria and also destroy this DNA.
Professor Bill Keevil, head of the microbiology group at Southampton University, said using copper on surfaces in public places and on public transport could dramatically cut the threat posed by superbugs.
Professor Keevil said: “There are a lot of bugs on our hands that we are spreading around by touching surfaces. In a public building or mass transport, surfaces cannot be cleaned for long periods of time.
“Until relatively recently brass was a relatively commonly used surface. On stainless steel surfaces these bacteria can survive for weeks, but on copper surfaces they die within minutes.
“Part of the process DNA from bacteria is also destroyed just as rapidly on the copper, so you cannot get gene transfer on the surface.”
Almost 43,000 people a year are infected in hospitals with antibiotic resistant bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
Antibiotic resistance usually occurs in a single bacterium that then multiplies and passes on this resistance to other bacteria around them.
In research published in the journal Molecular Genetics of Bacteria, Professor Keevil and his colleagues found that compared to stainless steel bacteria on copper surfaces bacterial DNA rapidly degraded at room temperature.
Professor Keevil added: “We live in this new world of stainless steel and plastic, but perhaps we should go back to using brass more instead.”
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