The silver bullet for contamination

7th of October 2015 Article by Paul Wonnacott
The silver bullet for contamination

Paul Wonnacott is managing director and president of Vectair Systems, specialist in washroom hygiene and aircare systems. The company does business around the globe and Wonnacott has gained considerable experience in many of the world's most important markets. In his latest blog for ECJ he discusses the properties of silver as a natural antibacterial.

As a cleaning company, we deal with all sorts of germs and bacteria every day. We offer the safety net to everyday people visiting public washrooms by offering protection against those harmful organisms.

Safety against everyday bacteria is often something that we as a first world country take for granted. The Ebola outbreak was an important reminder to those who have access to clean water and sanitation, of how lucky we really are. It also served as a reminder to us as individuals, to make sure we wash our hands regularly, and to venues, to ensure they provide the right services to keep us safe.

According to reports by the UK's National Health Service (NHS) Hospital Trust and the Primary Care Organisation, 1,222 MRSA bloodstream infections were reported between July 2014 and July 2015, with 72 per cent of those attributed as being contracted outside of the hospital setting.

For cleaning companies, it is not only important to provide protection for their customers against harmful germs such as MRSA, E.Coli and Legionella, but it is also important to protect their staff. After all, cleaners are the ones who will be handling dispensers, chemicals bottles, vacuum cleaners and other cleaning products most often.

So what is the secret to effective infection control? The journey to combating contamination started over 3,000 years ago, when it was discovered that by drinking out of a silver jug, you were less likely to become ill. It turned out that like vampires and wolves, bacteria had a weakness; silver.

The precious metal has been used as a natural antibacterial for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates wrote that silver had both healing and anti-disease properties. In the Middle Ages, the wealthy fed their children using a silver spoon to give them protection against disease - hence the saying ‘born with a silver spoon in your mouth'.

The ancient Phoenicians knew enough to keep water, wine and vinegar in silver vessels to ensure freshness. It was such a powerful idea that some thought that the use of silver cutlery might even provide protection against the plague.

According to the Silver Institute, silver interrupts the bacteria cell's ability to form the chemical bonds essential to its survival. These bonds produce the cell's physical structure so when bacteria meets silver it literally falls apart. Wound dressings containing silver have been an important aspect of healthcare for more than a century; soldiers in World War I relied heavily upon such dressings.

Silver has actually been proven to promote the growth of new cells, thereby increasing the rate at which wounds can heal. And, unlike other metals with antimicrobial properties, it is not toxic to humans. Many hospitals are employing silver-imbedded equipment including surgical tools, catheters, needles, stethoscopes, furniture, door handles and even paper files to combat MRSA.

Until the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s, colloidal silver was used by physicians as a mainstream antibiotic treatment. After the 1940s, the benefits of silver in healthcare were largely ignored or forgotten. The ancient treatment, however, is still helping deal with the thoroughly modern problem of bacterial contamination through the latest silver-ion technology.

The application of silver-ion technology in the hygiene sector is as a coating to dispensers such as a manual soap dispenser, which needs to be touched. The outer coating provides both ‘antibacterial' and ‘antimicrobial' protection to the user. But what is the difference?

Biomaster, a provider of silver-ion technology recently explained to us that ‘antibacterial' means that the substance protects the growth of bacteria.

‘Antimicrobial' however prevents the growth of disease causing microbes, which along with bacteria, includes fungi, moulds and algae. Interestingly, they say that often, companies will market the word ‘antibacterial' when actually their product is an antimicrobial, just because it is the more commonly known word. But it is good practice to check exactly which they mean, to be sure of what protection you're getting.

Interestingly, according to the NHS Hospital Trust reports, the number of hospital patients with a bloodstream infection caused by MRSA is the lowest we have seen recorded since targets for reducing MRSA were set in 2004. With the help of silver, we are hoping to see that trend continue!

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