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Wednesday, February 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Don C. Brunell: Keeping health workers healthy is key to fighting deadly diseases

Don C. Brunell

Keeping hospitals and health workers healthy is key to fighting diseases. With new and more deadly viruses, the job is more challenging.

Although the coronavirus has captured the world’s attention, it is important to note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 80,000 Americans died of flu and flu complications in winter 2017-18 – the highest flu-related death toll in at least four decades.

The coronavirus outbreak is very serious. According to the New York Times, China’s Health Commission reported 361 deaths nationwide as of Feb. 2. During the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, 349 people died in mainland China.

The coronavirus is not just a China problem. It is showing up in other countries, prompting the Chinese government to quarantine Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. Foreign airlines and passenger railroads have curtailed service to China, which is the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods.

There is growing concern about the safety of doctors, nurses and health care workers. That worry is not new, but in Hong Kong, for example, some nurses are now striking, demanding better protection. One promising answer is microbial copper textiles.

In 2014, during the Ebola outbreak, British clinical researcher Rory Donnelly told the Khaleej Times that copper-impregnated clothing is the most viable and immediate answer.

“With staff becoming exposed to the virus through lack of appropriate protective equipment, including masks, gowns and gloves, 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,” Donnelly said.

The coronavirus has sparked new interest in copper clothing – not copper-coated armored suits, but textiles impregnated with copper that kill bacteria and odor on contact and show promising results in rejecting viruses.

“The interest in antimicrobials, especially antiviral coating, is very, very high,” A. Blanton Godfrey, dean of the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University, told the Associated Press in 2006. “Whoever gets it right will have a very nice business.”

An Israeli company, Cupron, started making copper-laced socks nearly 20 years ago and has expanded into the U.S. Its Richmond, Virginia, operation successfully tested its copper-infused linens and hard surfaces in Virginia and North Carolina hospitals in 2018. Since then, the company has developed a process to incorporate anti-microbial copper formulations into soft materials such as towels, gowns and masks.

In November the American Society of Microbiology released a new study discovered that copper hospital beds in intensive care units had 95% fewer bacteria than conventional beds.

That’s important because “hospital-acquired infections sicken approximately 2 million Americans annually, and kill nearly 100,000,” according to Dr. Michael G. Schmidt of the University of South Carolina. They are the eighth-leading cause of U.S. deaths.

Copper and its alloys are important tools in fighting diseases and infections. While government officials are correct to worry about ingestion of any heavy metal into the human body, testing shows that microbial copper textiles are safe and, when used in health care, have significant impact on preventing doctors and health care workers from contracting illnesses.

Copper is the only metal that is deadly to viruses and bacterial and fungal infections. The International Journal of Infection Control reports copper is effective in fighting diseases that develop drug-resistant mutations.

Medical experts correctly fear a repeat of the last influenza pandemic that swept our planet in 1918. The Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people – 3% of the world’s population. One-fifth of the world’s population was attacked by the deadly virus.

The bottom line is healthy health workers are key to helping us recover from common illnesses and epidemics. Copper will likely help improve their safety.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver, Wash. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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