Chilean hospitals investigate use of copper to stop bacteria

The project, funded by the state-owned mining company Codelco, uses copper’s antimicrobial properties in an attempt to keep hospital infections at bay.


As the world struggles to cope with the skyrocketing rate of hospital-acquired infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, two hospitals in Santiago might be at the forefront of finding a solution. Even better, the plan uses none of the powerful and side-effect laden drugs currently in use to stop the infections.

The Roberto del Río Children’s Hospital in the Santiago borough of Independencia and downtown’s Posta Central Emergency Room have begun installing copper versions of many frequently touched objects like bed railings and water fixtures. The hope is that the red metal’s natural antimicrobial properties will stop the spread of bacteria without breeding the resistant strains left over from the use of antibiotics.

”The ions of copper interact with the membrane of the bacteria, their metabolism gets disturbed and they are killed by copper,” Dr Marisol Navarette, the doctor in charge of the trial program at Robert del Río, told CNN.

So far, the project has seen preliminary success. It was funded primarily by Codelco, Chile’s state-owned mining company and the world’s largest copper producer. It was developed by Copper BioHealth and was just one part of a slew of the company’s projects around Chile that hope to show the metal’s potential to help prevent the spread of infections.

In addition to the two Santiago hospitals, Copper BioHealth is running a similar program at Hospital del Cobre in the northern city of Calama. But the projects don’t just focus on hospitals. Copper door knobs and hand railings have also been installed in Codelco’s headquarters, the Santiago Bueras Metro station and the Santiago Library in Quinta Normal.

Chile is the world’s top copper producer and the red metal is a major source for investment in what has become one of Latin America’s strongest and fastest-growing economies.