Well, yes and no – it’s not a ‘cure’, but researchers have found it does have some surprising disinfectant qualities.
Copper is an essential of the human diet – without it we suffer from fatigue, brittle bones, and memory and learning problems. But we only require tiny quantities (0.9mg a day), usually found in seafood, mushrooms, tofu, sweet potatoes, sesame seeds, cashews, chickpeas, salmon, dark chocolate, and avocados.
And of course there have always been old wives’ tales about copper bangles being good for your rheumatism.
But now scientists have found another application for copper, and a particularly topical one – it’s good at wiping out coronavirus.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s a ‘cure’ for the disease, but it does suggest that used as a surface material, copper could be more effective than, say, plastic, in killing off the virus.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the Sars-Cov-2 virus responsible for the coronavirus pandemic can live on a copper surface for only around four hours, as opposed to around 72 hours on a plastic surface. Of course, cleaning the surface itself is the most important factor, as the virus can be transmitted via contaminated surfaces.
The study, led by virologist Neeltje van Doremalen from the US National Institutes of Health,, is one of the first into how long the new virus can survive on different surfaces. The study found that the virus can survive in droplets in the air for up to three hours.
The researchers found that bed rails, call buttons, chair arms, tray tables and IV support poles were the most contaminated surfaces in hospitals, and replaced them with copper components. They found an 83 per cent reduction in bacteria and a reduction in infection rates of 58 per cent.
The antimicrobial properties of copper didn’t come as a complete surprise – previous studies have shown it to be effective against MRSA, E.coli, Influenza A and norovirus. The theory is that a process called mis-metalisation replaces some of the metals in viral proteins with copper, blocking their functions and deactivatiing the virus.
It’s a promising area for research, but copper used in domestic environments is unlikely to be of much use – it’s treated to prevent oxidation (a process which causes it to turn green), and this also reduces its antimicrobial properties.