Can copper fight Ebola?
Clinical researcher Rory Donnelly tells Khaleej Times copper-impregnated clothing is the most viable and immediate answer to help curb the Ebola outbreak
The world is now in the midst of an Ebola epidemic. With the current death toll reaching more than 4,900 and new cases coming out in Europe and the US, the virus is no longer a threat to West Africa alone.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that up to 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by January 2015, and as a result the World Health Organisation (WHO) is trying to break the cycle of the virus at every given opportunity.
Though vaccine doses have been suggested for release early next year, Ebola is a disease which can spread quickly within the healthcare setting, so decisions need to be made now.
With staff becoming exposed to the virus through lack of appropriate protective equipment, including masks, gowns, and gloves, Clinical Researcher Rory Donnelly tells Khaleej Times copper-impregnated clothing is the mostviable and immediate answer to help curb the Ebola outbreak.
“Copper clothing is another form of prevention. Several clinical and laboratory studies have been carried out showing copper ions destroy bacteria and the benefits to humans have recently come to light.”
Director at Copper Clothing in the UK, Donnelly says it has been proven the Ebola virus sits on clothing for prolonged periods of time, creating a high risk for cross contamination.
“If someone has come into contact with the virus unknowingly, they will carry it around on their clothing for days on end, so it can be easily spread.”
Referring to the case of the Spanish auxiliary nurse who was the first person known to have contracted the virus outside Africa earlier this month, Donnelly says it will be a big problem if the virus is given the opportunity to mutate and become airborne.
‘The potential for copper-impregnated fabrics is immense’
Dr Hilary Jones believes the evidence stacks up for copper fabric against any pathogen, including Ebola. Speaking to Khaleej Times, he said a recent assay study supports its use and raises the question: Can copper-impregnated fabrics be used to tackle the spread of Ebola?
How does the technology work?
Copper ions have been shown in elegant studies to be biocidal. They have potent anti-viral activity as well as acting as a method of water purification, as algaecides, fungicides, nematocides, molluscicides and as anti-bacterial agents. In recent years a durable platform technology has been developed where copper ions have been incorporated into cotton fibres, latex and other polymeric materials. In anti-viral gloves and filters it has been shown that the copper ions can deactivate HIV along with other viruses. Electron micrographs have shown that these fabrics are capable of killing other dreaded super bugs which are the bane of many hospital microbiologists.
In 2008 Wiley Gibbs wrote a book of the danger of diseases like SARS, HIV, and Ebola and the potential therapeutic use of copper impregnated materials such as gowns to break the cycle of transmission. On most porous and soft surfaces viruses can survive for many days. On copper impregnated materials the promise of significant activity capable of reducing viral numbers is extremely attractive, given that seven million people will acquire a healthcare-acquired infection every year.
Could technology like this help prevent the spread of Ebola?
It has been known throughout history that the element copper has disease treating properties. More recently there has been a great deal of research done on the health benefits of copper-impregnated fabrics. Several studies have shown these to be significantly anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral. All talk at present centres on the threat of Ebola, not just to West Africa, but to the world in general. Whilst there is no direct evidence that copper-impregnated fabric might help diminish the threat of Ebola, a recent assay study conducted at The Institute of Hygiene and Microbiology in Germany has shown its efficacy against coronaviruses of the type responsible for Mers.
How do you propose governments use copper clothing to help prevent the spread of Ebola?
Wiley Gibbs recently wrote that all medical staff should wear copper gowns. Since the fabric retains its anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties after repeated washing, these gowns could be reused and prove very cost effective. This could help overcome one of the serious dangers of nursing Ebola patients where staff had become infected when removing gowns. A copper impregnated bio-suit would not cost more than a few US dollars and could be made out of the copper clothing in a strong durable but disposable fabric that could break the transmission cycle. Furthermore, there is a potential use for the fabrics to be used for face masks, for close family members, airport staff and materials used on aeroplanes and other forms of public transport.
Why do you think this technology is not widely used in medical environments?
For the last half century there has been an emphasis and total reliance on pharmaceutical medications. Modern medicines are potentially highly profitable to shareholders of pharmaceutical companies so the manufacture of therapeutic textiles may appear less attractive. Up to now, whilst copper metal has been known to reduce bacterial contamination on hard surfaces, there simply hasn’t been the technology to impregnate fabric and ensure that it maintains its content of copper ions after frequent washing. This technology is now available.
Why are you backing the use of copper fabrics to help fight harmful viruses?
I have been impressed by the growing scientific evidence that copper ions in fabrics can inactivate bacteria such as MRSA as well as viruses as potent as HIV 1 and Coronavirus. The medical applications of these fabrics are huge and I believe it will find a much greater use worldwide in the future. When you look at the emerging evidence for the use of copper impregnated fabrics in medicine and consider the growing worldwide threat of antibiotic resistance to common organisms and the sheer weight of disease produced as a result, this technology is more likely to attract growing attention very soon. Another important feature of the potential for copper clothing is that pathogenic microorganisms do not develop a resistance to it as they do to antibiotics.
Why do you think it is taking so long for this technology to be picked up?
Clinical trials take many years and are costly. A young company like Copper Clothing cannot compete with the resources of Big Pharma. But one thing is for sure. There is no down side of using copper fabrics as there are no side-effects and skin sensitisation is exceedingly rare.
How do you propose medical institutions introduce the technology into the workplace?
Copper ions can be impregnated into many fabrics and the future may see medical staff wearing copper infused gowns and wearing copper infused latex gloves. These gowns could help overcome the most serious dangers of nursing patients who have become infected with Ebola.
Could wearability of copper clothing be introduced into everyday life?
Hospital superbugs do not merely exist in the hospital setting. These superbugs have now found a reservoir within the community where many elderly patients and those who have diminished immunity for other reasons are vulnerable to their effects. Copper impregnated textiles could certainly be introduced into everyday life and already have been. -firstname.lastname@example.org
“That particular nurse touched her glove on her face after treating an Ebola patient. This proves that the virus lives on clothing too. What we need to do is kill the bacteria at this stage before it becomes airborne.”
Describing Ebola as an “envelope virus”, Donnelly says to stop cross infection you simply need to “break the chain of infection”.
“There was a study done on MRSA using copper-impregnated fabrics. It showed that the infused fabric kills the epidemic strain of bacteria, as fast as 100 per cent copper metal itself.”
And trials carried out in hospitals in the US and UK have also shown copper ions deliver 90-100 per cent reduced contamination in healthcare-acquired infections (HCAIs).
“This is a considerable reduction in pathogens,” he says.
Though Donnelly and his team cannot get access to a laboratory to test its fabric against the Ebola virus, the evidence stacks up for copper-impregnated fabrics against any pathogen including HIV 1, Aids, Influenza virus, due to its potent anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.
Earlier this year, Donnelly was also approached by a health advisory for the UAE Royal family, who posed questions as to whether Cu29 fabric could be effective against the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Mers).
“We carried out an efficacy test against Mers through a lab in Germany and there proved to be a very significant reduction in the virus (99.99) when using copper fabric. We believe that this is the world’s first in the rapid inactivation of viruses”.
With the backing of several prevalent doctors in the UK including Professor Bill Keevil, Wylie Gibbs, Dr Michael Oko, Dr Charlie Easmon and Dr Hilary Jones, and successful studies carried out on copper fabrics at medical agency laboratories in the UK and Germany, Donnelly is confident his company will be approached within the next month to help break the cycle of Ebola..
“This is an amazing technology and we believe it could save thousands of lives. Viruses are found to sit on fabrics and you can get a viral infection very easily but our fabric will not allow this to happen.”
To date, Copper Clothing have already developed anti-viral face masks, gloves and bio suits which can be manufactured and distributed quickly for a very low cost, using their technology in a durable and disposable fabric. Copper Clothing is a young company that is willing to work with someone in the UAE on a non-profit basis, as a sponsor to manufacture and distribute garments, especially the face masks for Coronavirus and bio suits for Ebola. Visit www.copperclothing.co.uk.
So, could this be the answer to help fight Ebola? -email@example.com.