Using copper-alloy materials in fitness centres significantly reduced concentrations of bacteria on all equipment types, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Infection Control. The study shows that high-touch surfaces in gyms made with copper will maintain reduced bacterial loads, as found in similar studies performed in hospitals. These results could reduce the number of community-acquired infections (CAIs).
Led by Shannon Hinsa-Leasure, associate professor of biology at Grinnell College, the study found significantly fewer bacteria on equipment with copper alloy grips such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, specialty dumbbells, grip attachments, lat pulldown attachments and low row attachments.
“Grip surfaces in athletic centres present an ideal environment for microbes to persist and spread,” said Hinsa-Leasure. “We have shown that copper alloy grips reduce bacterial numbers by 94 per cent over control grips and thereby limit the spread of infectious microbes by reducing exposure to athletes.”
High-touch surfaces throughout a gym can serve as reservoirs for pathogenic microorganisms, including antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Though typically found in hospitals, outbreaks of MRSA infections have become more common in athletic centres.
In the U.S., hospital-acquired infections and hospital-onset infections have dropped by 27.7 per cent and 54.2 per cent, respectively, but CAIs have only dropped by five per cent.
With the rise of MRSA and other CAIs in gyms, the use of copper alloy surfaces not only reduce bacterial burden, but also help prevent the spread of infections like MRSA.
MRSA and other pathogens can survive from days to months on dry surfaces, but copper alloy kills a majority of bacteria within two hours. Copper compounds have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, yet copper alloys were just recently recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as having antimicrobial effectiveness, driving the increased study and use of copper alloy surfaces.
The study was conducted over 16 months at Grinnell College Athletic Center.
“We demonstrated that copper alloys excel at reducing bacteria in the athletic centre environment at rates similar to those found in hospital settings,” said Hinsa-Leasure. “And we found the most common type of bacteria on these surfaces are Staphylococcus.”
Photo: Grinnell College students Zina Ibrahim ’17 and Alexandra “Julia” Petrusan ’18 conduct research on the use of copper surfaces to significantly reduce concentrations of bacteria on gym equipment.