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Two rectangle shapes made of copper placed on a white background

Using copper to fight COVID-19

Published: 2 February 2022

Lead researchers Professor Bill Keevil from Biological Sciences and Dr Sandra Wilks from Health Sciences have been working together for 20 years.Their findings have already led to the installation of antimicrobial surfaces globally in hospitals, supermarkets, public transport and airports. They have informed regulatory standards for products and healthcare facilities and helped government agencies.

What happens when germs land on copper

Their research has demonstrated what happens when germs land on copper surfaces due to touch, coughs, or sneezes. The results proved for the first time that copper ions rapidly inhibit cell respiration, attack the bacterial cell membrane and destroy the DNA and RNA inside. 

This has proved the ability of copper to kill a range of germs and stop the spread of highly contagious and deadly superbugs:

  • COVID-19
  • MRSA
  • Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE)
  • E.Coli
  • Listeria

Rapidly inactivated

Bill first published a paper in 2015 investigating how Human Coronavirus 229E, which is closely related to the COVID-19 virus, remains infectious on common touch surface materials such as stainless steel compared to how it can be rapidly inactivated on a range of copper ones.

At the time very few people were publishing papers about Coronavirus, so when COVID-19 began this was one of the key papers in this field of research.
Professor In Environmental Health Care

Consultancy and research

Bill and Sandra's team are currently working with a range of external organisations to provide consultancy and research into how copper can be used in a number of products. 

Recently this has included working with Copper Cover Ltd to show that their copper powder spray inactivates Coronavirus in as little as one minute. The powder is cold sprayed at high velocity, forming a bond with the base metal. This is stronger than a weld and produces a permanent antimicrobial coating.

These products have relied on their research as validation to bring them to market. Since the pandemic started the company has coated more than 10,000 commonly touched surfaces in busy public locations.

Covid survival on foods and food packaging

Their team has also been commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to carry out research exploring the survival of Coronavirus on the surfaces of various foods and food packaging materials. The FSA completed and published a risk assessment in 2020 and  the findings from the Southampton research will be used to confirm this assessment.

Professor Keevil's research has also been used to support

  • US Environmental Protection Agency antimicrobial product claim regulations
  • healthcare facility standards in Poland and France
  • the production of antimicrobial face masks

This has led to the certification of more than 450 copper-containing antimicrobial products on the market.