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What is the existing research on copper's effectiveness in dealing with COVID-19, particularly when used in face masks?

This article was published on
April 21, 2021

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There has been research suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, does not survive long on copper surfaces. However, this does not mean that copper products are always effective in protecting against COVID-19. In fact, many copper-based products currently on the market do not contain a sufficient concentration of copper for significant antimicrobial effects. One study that is commonly used as evidence on the effectiveness of copper is an April 2020 publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that “no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours” on copper surfaces. It is important to remember that this study in a controlled laboratory setting does not mean all commercial products with copper are able to protect against COVID-19 in real life. Products containing copper can vary widely and many products have not been designed, manufactured, and tested properly to ensure effectiveness. Furthermore, copper does not act instantaneously against microbes such as viruses, with research findings showing that copper can take 45 minutes just to reduce the amount of virus on a surface by half.  Dr. Lindsay Marr, an aerosol scientist from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), suggested in a New York Times article that copper-based face coverings could potentially “come in handy for people who mishandle their mask,” assuming that “a hefty dose of copper could diminish the chances of viable virus making it into the eyes, nose or mouth via a wayward hand that’s touched the front of a mask.” Unfortunately, if a copper face covering does not contain sufficient copper, the product “won’t confer any more benefit than just regular masks” according to Dr. Karrera Djoko, a biochemist and microbiologist from Durham University. Additionally, Dr. Djoko also warns that there could be issues with durability of copper products, particularly for face masks that may be repeatedly disinfected, because many common household cleaners have compounds that can strip copper ions from a surface.  There can be some promising uses of copper to protect against COVID-19, such as using copper surfaces in healthcare settings to help reduce risk of hospital-acquired infections. That said, health experts warn against relying on commercially sold products with copper, such as copper face coverings, which are not carefully regulated and have not been rigorously tested for effectiveness.

There has been research suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, does not survive long on copper surfaces. However, this does not mean that copper products are always effective in protecting against COVID-19. In fact, many copper-based products currently on the market do not contain a sufficient concentration of copper for significant antimicrobial effects. One study that is commonly used as evidence on the effectiveness of copper is an April 2020 publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that “no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours” on copper surfaces. It is important to remember that this study in a controlled laboratory setting does not mean all commercial products with copper are able to protect against COVID-19 in real life. Products containing copper can vary widely and many products have not been designed, manufactured, and tested properly to ensure effectiveness. Furthermore, copper does not act instantaneously against microbes such as viruses, with research findings showing that copper can take 45 minutes just to reduce the amount of virus on a surface by half.  Dr. Lindsay Marr, an aerosol scientist from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), suggested in a New York Times article that copper-based face coverings could potentially “come in handy for people who mishandle their mask,” assuming that “a hefty dose of copper could diminish the chances of viable virus making it into the eyes, nose or mouth via a wayward hand that’s touched the front of a mask.” Unfortunately, if a copper face covering does not contain sufficient copper, the product “won’t confer any more benefit than just regular masks” according to Dr. Karrera Djoko, a biochemist and microbiologist from Durham University. Additionally, Dr. Djoko also warns that there could be issues with durability of copper products, particularly for face masks that may be repeatedly disinfected, because many common household cleaners have compounds that can strip copper ions from a surface.  There can be some promising uses of copper to protect against COVID-19, such as using copper surfaces in healthcare settings to help reduce risk of hospital-acquired infections. That said, health experts warn against relying on commercially sold products with copper, such as copper face coverings, which are not carefully regulated and have not been rigorously tested for effectiveness.

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What our experts say

There has been research suggesting that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, does not survive long on copper surfaces. However, this does not mean that copper products are always effective in protecting against COVID-19. In fact, many copper-based products currently on the market do not contain a sufficient concentration of copper for significant antimicrobial effects.

One study that is commonly used as evidence on the effectiveness of copper is an April 2020 publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that “no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours” on copper surfaces. It is important to remember that this study in a controlled laboratory setting does not mean all commercial products with copper are able to protect against COVID-19 in real life. Products containing copper can vary widely and many products have not been designed, manufactured, and tested properly to ensure effectiveness. Furthermore, copper does not act instantaneously against microbes such as viruses, with research findings showing that copper can take 45 minutes just to reduce the amount of virus on a surface by half. 

Dr. Lindsay Marr, an aerosol scientist from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), suggested in a New York Times article that copper-based face coverings could potentially “come in handy for people who mishandle their mask,” assuming that “a hefty dose of copper could diminish the chances of viable virus making it into the eyes, nose or mouth via a wayward hand that’s touched the front of a mask.” Unfortunately, if a copper face covering does not contain sufficient copper, the product “won’t confer any more benefit than just regular masks” according to Dr. Karrera Djoko, a biochemist and microbiologist from Durham University. Additionally, Dr. Djoko also warns that there could be issues with durability of copper products, particularly for face masks that may be repeatedly disinfected, because many common household cleaners have compounds that can strip copper ions from a surface. 

There can be some promising uses of copper to protect against COVID-19, such as using copper surfaces in healthcare settings to help reduce risk of hospital-acquired infections. That said, health experts warn against relying on commercially sold products with copper, such as copper face coverings, which are not carefully regulated and have not been rigorously tested for effectiveness.

Context and background

There have been multiple metallic products marketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as products containing copper or silver. Some of these products have a metallic coating, while others contain metals as a dietary supplement for consumption. Copper has a long history of being used for disinfection, with ancient civilizations sometimes keeping water stored in copper containers before there was a scientific understanding of what germs were. Yet not all metallic products on the market are created equal, and many products have insufficient concentrations of copper to be effective. 

Health experts have been warning people to be cautious when considering the use of copper-based products to protect against COVID-19. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has released warnings about fraudulent COVID-19 products, including multiple products with copper and colloidal silver that are ineffective. Furthermore, it can be dangerous to consume more than the daily recommended value of copper, leading to toxicity. Commercial copper-based products do not reduce the need for other preventative actions, such as wearing and cleaning masks properly, maintaining hand hygiene, and maintaining social distance. 

Resources

  1. Copper Won’t Save You From Coronavirus (NYT)
  2. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1 (New England Journal of Medicine)
  3. From Laboratory Research to a Clinical Trial: Copper Alloy Surfaces Kill Bacteria and Reduce Hospital-Acquired Infections (Health Environments Research & Design Journal)
  4. Fraudulent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Products (U.S. FDA)
  5. Toxic Substances Portal - Copper (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry)

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