A Tale of Two Metals, Bad News for the “Bugs”!

A Tale of Two Metals, Bad News for the “Bugs”!

Silver and Copper, over the centuries, these two metals have been used as currency, jewelry, electronic conductors, and in many other ways.  Silver and Copper also share a valuable medical functionality, and before the advent of antibiotics in the 1930s, both were major assets used in wound care and disinfection.  It’s not surprising that these two metals function in similar fashion, they are vertical neighbors on the Periodic Table of the Elements, which means that they react in the same ways much of the time.

Silver’s antimicrobial properties have been known for years.  In bacteria and fungi, silver’s effect is on the cell membrane, making holes in it and then binding to the DNA, making it impossible for the cell to replicate and ultimately killing the cell. The possible antiviral properties of silver are more difficult a topic to find universal agreement on, but there is plenty of speculation on the topic, centering around the likelihood that there is some negative effect of the silver ion (Ag +1) on the ability of the virus to reproduce, either by disrupting the virus coat and destroying the DNA inside or a combination of both methods.

Copper, like silver, has been tested for years and appears to have both antimicrobial and antiviral function.  The antimicrobial function of metallic copper, is described in papers as the “metallic copper killing microbes on contact”, meaning that the population of bacteria on a surface is continually decreasing in microbial and viral particles at a rate of seven to ten logs per hour (that’s a pretty rapid rate!).  There is some controversy about the mechanism of “contact killing” but the answer again, as in silver’s case, seems to be a function really of membrane degeneration and/or genetic material damage caused by the copper ions.

Copper’s antiviral properties are based on the presence of both metallic copper and of the copper ions (Cu +1 and Cu +2), meaning that the bare metal surface of copper functions on its own in anti viral action and that action is exacerbated by the presence of its ions.  The surface of the copper has to be moist or wet in order to release the copper ions necessary for antiviral activity, this activity being similar to silver’s, meaning that the viral coat is damaged and the genetic material inside is destroyed.  This antimicrobial activity also explains one of the long known benefits of copper plumbing, as copper water lines have been found to be resistant to the formation of toxic bacterial biofilms.

Metallic copper was registered in 2008 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the first solid antimicrobial material.  Among the new possible proposed uses for copper are handrails, doorknobs, and any surface that would allow the transfer of microbes or viruses.  V Technical Textiles, Inc. and Statex have explored some very interesting copper solutions available for hospital and home surfaces which may be worth considering as research and testing continue.

V Technical Textiles, Inc.



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