When researchers reported last month that the novel coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic survives for days on glass and stainless steel but dies within hours after landing on copper, the only thing that surprised Bill Keevil was that the pathogen lasted so long on copper.
Keevil, a microbiology researcher at the University of Southampton (U.K.), has studied the antimicrobial effects of copper for more than two decades. He has watched in his laboratory as the simple metal slew one bad bug after another. He began with the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's Disease and then turned to drug-resistant killer infections like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). He tested viruses that caused worldwide health scares such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemic of 2009. In each case, copper contact killed the pathogen within minutes. "It just blew it apart," he says.