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Germ Resistance Suffers Sweaty Defeat

Friday, June 20, 2014

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Human perspiration can quickly cause enough corrosion of brass objects in schools and hospitals to render them powerless against some bacteria, scientists in the UK have found.

Architectural hardware made of copper and its alloys, such as brass door handles and water taps, have been widely used in public buildings to help prevent the spread of disease. Copper is antimicrobial.

However, scientists at the University of Leicester have found that within an hour of contact, sweat can adversely affect the metal’s ability to kill a range of microorganisms, according to an announcement on the research.

door knob
BlastOButter42 / Wikimedia Commons

Researchers have found that sweaty hands can adversely affect brass's antimicrobial properties within an hour of contact.

The research findings, described as “groundbreaking,” were published June 7 in the journal Applied Surface Science.

Sweat and Brass

“The antimicrobial effect of copper has been known for hundreds of years,” explains Dr. John Bond, the lead author of the research.

“It is thought to occur as a result of a charge exchange between copper and bacteria, which leads to a degradation of the bacteria DNA.

“We have discovered that the salt in sweat corrodes the metal, forming an oxide layer on its surface, which is the process of corrosion—and this corrosive layer is known to inhibit the effect of the copper."

sneeze
James Gathany / Centers for Disease Control

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control estimates that healthcare-acquired infections are on the rise, accounting for 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year.

Bond said his study is the first to quantitatively analyze “the temporal corrosion of copper alloys such as brass in the first few hours after contact between fingerprint sweat concentrations of salt and the metal.”

More Research Needed

While he admits more research is needed in the area, he suggests regular and thorough cleaning of copper alloy components in public environments as a way to curb the corrosion.

In the long run, Bond recommends using copper alloys equipped with corrosion inhibitors for these applications.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control estimates that healthcare-acquired infections are on the rise, accounting for 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year.

   

Tagged categories: Building materials; Copper; Corrosion; Doors; Europe; Good Technical Practice; Health and safety; Health Care/Hospitals; Metals; Research

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