A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

Checking into a hospital can boost your chances of infection. That’s a disturbing paradox of modern medical care.

And it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re hospitalized. From the finest to the most rudimentary medical facilities, patients are vulnerable to new infections that have nothing to do with their original medical problem. These are referred to as healthcare-acquired infections, healthcare-associated infections or hospital-acquired infections. Many of them, like pneumonia or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can be deadly.

The World Health Organization estimates that “each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world are affected” by healthcare-acquired infections. In the United States, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the Health and Human Services Department estimates that 1 in 25 inpatients has a hospital-related infection. In developing countries, estimates run higher.

Hospital bed safety railings are a major source of these infections. That’s what Constanza Correa, 33, and her colleagues have found in their research in Santiago, Chile. They’ve taken on the problem by replacing them, since 2013, with railings made of copper, an anti-microbial element.

Copper definitely wipes out microbes. “Bacteria, yeasts and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process,” wrote the authors of an article on copper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. That knowledge has been around a very long time. The journal article cites an Egyptian medical text, written around 2600-2000 B.C., that cites the use of copper to sterilize chest wounds and drinking water.

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A Copper Bedrail Could Cut Back On Infections For Hospital Patients

Checking into a hospital can boost your chances of infection. That’s a disturbing paradox of modern medical care.

And it doesn’t matter where in the world you’re hospitalized. From the finest to the most rudimentary medical facilities, patients are vulnerable to new infections that have nothing to do with their original medical problem. These are referred to as healthcare-acquired infections, healthcare-associated infections or hospital-acquired infections. Many of them, like pneumonia or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), can be deadly.

The World Health Organization estimates that “each year, hundreds of millions of patients around the world are affected” by healthcare-acquired infections. In the United States, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the Health and Human Services Department estimates that 1 in 25 inpatients has a hospital-related infection. In developing countries, estimates run higher.

Hospital bed safety railings are a major source of these infections. That’s what Constanza Correa, 33, and her colleagues have found in their research in Santiago, Chile. They’ve taken on the problem by replacing them, since 2013, with railings made of copper, an anti-microbial element.

Copper definitely wipes out microbes. “Bacteria, yeasts and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process,” wrote the authors of an article on copper inApplied and Environmental Microbiology. That knowledge has been around a very long time. The journal article cites an Egyptian medical text, written around 2600-2000 B.C., that cites the use of copper to sterilize chest wounds and drinking water.

Continue reading.

Photo: A copper bedrail can kill germs on contact. (Courtesy of CopperBioHealth)

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Bornite to be wild!

This colourful mineral is called bornite, also known colloquially as peacock ore. It was named after Austrian mineralogist, Ignaz von Born. The colloquial name refers to its brilliant, iridescent red-purple-blue-bronze colouration which is caused by tarnishing (oxidation due to exposure to air). In its untarnished form, it is grey to black. Bornite is a soft mineral, with a hardness of only 3-3.5.

Bornite is a copper iron sulphide with the chemical composition Cu5FeS4. It is found most often with a massive or granular habit, which means the grains range from too fine to see with the naked eye (massive), to visible but too poorly formed for crystal habit to be distinguishable (granular). I’ve included pictures of the massive form (photo #1, scale = 200 mm on the longest side), as well as the crystalline form (photo #2, FOV = 9 mm). On rare occasions, bornite is found with cubic (6-sided), octohedral (8-sided) or dodecahedral (12-sided) crystals with orthorhombic, dipyramidal symmetry.

So, what does orthorhombic dipyramidal symmetry mean? This refers to the crystal system (lattice system), which essentially describes the shape made by each unit cell of the mineral (i.e. each “molecule” of Cu5FeS4). Minerals within the orthorhombic crystal system possess three unequal-length faces and a maximum of two axes of symmetry - that is, there are only two ways in which the mineral could be “folded” and still retain symmetry.

Bornite is an important ore mineral and commonly co-occurs with quartz (SiO2), chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), pyrite (FeS2) and marcasite (FeS2) in porpyhry copper deposits. Porphyry copper deposits are formed when magma chambers in the Earth undergo hydrothermal metasomatism. This just means that the chemical composition is changed from one mineral to another when it comes into contact with heated water and/or other fluids within the Earth. Bornite itself is readily altered to chalcocite (Cu2S) and covellite (CuS), although covellite is rare. These minerals also share the iridescent colouration when tarnished.

- YK

Image credits: 
Massive form - https://flic.kr/p/fxUZhf (c) Sam Droege 2013. Used under creative commons licensing. 
Crystalline form - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bornite-105005.jpg(c) Leon Hupperichs 2007. Used under creative commons licensing.
Further reading:
Bornite - http://webmineral.com/data/Bornite.shtml#.VIZNeskrKMI
http://www.mindat.org/min-727.html
Useful glossary of mineral habits - http://webmineral.com/help/Habits.shtml#.VIbJ6qhMpv8
Interactive tutorial on crystal systems - http://www.materials.ac.uk/elearning/matter/crystallography/3dcrystallography/7crystalsystems.html
Orthorhombic crystal system - http://www.rockhounds.com/rockshop/xtal/part5.shtml
Hydrothermal Metasomatism - https://wwwf.imperial.ac.uk/earthscienceandengineering/rocklibrary/viewglossrecord.php?gID=00000000326
This is an interesting thread about “making” peacock ore, with alot of good information about the differences between bornite and chalcopyrite - http://www.mindat.org/mesg-19-180405.html