September 1, 2005 Preventing hospital infections -- from such stubborn bugs as Staphylococcus aureus -- could get a little easier with a new non-toxic, silver-based material. Used in coating, it helps keep hospital air ducts bacterium- and fungus-free. The material is also used in a number of products including athletic footwear, door hardware, pens and business supplies.
DUARTE, Calif.--For more than 6,000 years, humans have used silver to fight germs, also known as microbes. Now, some hospitals are using a silver compound to reduce hospital infections.
You can't see them, but millions of microorganisms are living quietly among us, in places where we least expect them.
Cancer patient Steve Measer worries about germs a lot. "In the last two months I have been in three separate hospitals." But at the Helford Clinical Research Hospital at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif., where he is receiving treatment, microbes are hard to find.
Dr. James Miser, Chief Executive Officer at City of Hope National Medical Center, says, "The room which we are currently standing is as free of germs as medically possible in a hospital."
This is possible because the ducts delivering air to patients' rooms are coated with a silver-based anti-microbial compound called AgION. It can kill bacteria, viruses and fungus. Jeffrey Trogolo, Chief Technology Officer at AgION Technologies, Inc. in Wakefield, Mass., says, "When the conditions are right, it turns on, and that's where the silver comes out."
Agion technologies is using silver, a centuries-old germ killer, in a unique compound to coat surfaces and instruments that could spread disease. When bacteria are detected, the compound releases silver ions to the surface, killing existing microbes and any new ones that come along. "We have virtually no organisms grown," Dr. Miser says.
It's potent enough to kill germs, but is safe to use on virtually any surface. Trogolo says, "It's less toxic than table salt and less irritating than talcum powder. Ultimately we hope this will result in less infections and actually better outcomes for the patients."
The silver compound can also kill germs in your kitchen, on shopping cart handles, even in your sneakers. It's already used in a number of products including athletic footwear, door hardware, pens and business supplies.
BACKGROUND: Concern over infections acquired in hospitals has intensified over the last several months. AgION Technologies has developed a safe, long-lasting antimicrobial compound based on silver. Researchers have found it to be effective in fighting a wide variety of germs and other pathogens commonly found in healthcare environments. The Clinical Research Hospital at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif., is one of the first in the nation to use AgION-coated antimicrobial steel to minimize infection risks.
HOW IT WORKS: Silver has natural germicidal properties and is one of the oldest antimicrobial agents known. Humans have used silver to ward off disease since the ancient Egyptians; the Greeks used silver vessels for water to keep it fresh. It is still used by settlers in the Australian outback, who suspend silverware in their water tanks to keep spoilage at bay. Silver fell out of favor with the discovery of antibiotics, but interest in its germ-fighting properties has resurged with the rise of drug-resistant organisms and concern over possible epidemics that don't respond to conventional treatment.
RISK FACTORS: Silver is harmless if ingested in small amounts, but like most metals, large doses can be toxic, sometimes fatal. Among other effects, excess silver can be deposited in the skin and tissues, causing discoloration.
The American Society for Microbiology contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.