Hope: Copper taps, toilet seats and push plates on doors all but eliminated common bugs, the study found
Making door handles, taps and light switches from copper could help the country beat superbugs, scientists say.
A study found that copper fittings rapidly killed bugs on hospital wards, succeeding where other infection control measures failed.
In the trial at Selly Oak hospital, in Birmingham, copper taps, toilet seats and push plates on doors all but eliminated common bugs.
It is thought the metal 'suffocates' germs, preventing them breathing. It may also stop them from feeding and destroy their DNA.
Lab tests show that the metal kills off the deadly MRSA and C difficile superbugs.
It also kills other dangerous germs, including the flu virus and the E coli food poisoning bug.
Although the number of cases of MRSA and C difficile is falling, the two bugs still claim thousands of lives a year.
During the ten-week trial on a medical ward, a set of taps, a lavatory seat and a push plate on an entrance door were replaced with copper versions. They were swabbed twice a day for bugs and the results compared with a traditional tap, lavatory seat and push plate elsewhere in the ward.
The copper items had up to 95 per cent fewer bugs on their surface whenever they were tested, a U.S. conference on antibiotics heard yesterday.
Professor Tom Elliott, the lead researcher and a consultant microbiologist at the hospital, said: 'The findings of 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.
'I have been a consultant microbiologist for several decades. This is the first time I have seen anything like copper in terms of the effect it will have in the environment.
'It may well offer us another mechanism for trying to defeat the spread of infection.'
Researcher Professor Peter Lambert, of Aston University, Birmingham, said: 'The numbers decreased always on copper but not on the steel surfaces.'
If further hospital-based trials prove as successful, the researchers would like copper fixtures and fittings installed in hospitals around the country.
Doorknobs, taps, light switches, toilet seats and handles and bathroom 'grab rails' could all be ripped out and replaced with copper versions.
Making door handles, taps and light switches from copper could help the country beat superbugs, scientists say
Although it is usually thought to be an expensive metal, copper is actually a similar price to stainless steel, the researchers said. Nursing homes and even our houses could also benefit from the metal's ability to wipe out dangerous bugs.
The healing power of copper has been recognised for thousands of years.
More than 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians used it to sterilise wounds and drinking water and the Aztecs treated skin conditions with the metal.
The ancient Greeks also knew of its benefits. Hippocrates, sometimes called 'the father of medicine', noted that it could be used to treat leg ulcers.
Today, copper is a common constituent in medicines including antiseptic and antifungal creams. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Many of those with arthritis wear copper bangles.
Although they provide relief to many, there is no scientific evidence that they work.
Copper is present in our diet in trace amounts and plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells and in keeping our blood vessels, nerves and bones healthy.
The research was funded by the copper industry.