Copper acts as a natural inhibitor to bacterial growth. Copper ions, either alone or as complexes, have been used for centuries to disinfect fluids, solids and tissues. Copper is used widely as an algaecide in water purification, agricultural pesticides, fungicide, nematocide, molluscicide, and as an anti-bacterial and anti-fouling agent. Copper also has potent antiviral activity. According to experts the copper toxicity to micro-organisms, including to viruses, may occur through the displacement of essential metals from their native binding sites, from interference with oxidative phosphorylation and osmotic balance, and from alterations in the conformational structure of nucleic acids, membranes and proteins. By contrast human tissue has extremely low sensitivity to copper. Exposure to copper is thought to damage several key components of microbes (bacteria, viruses and fungi are all microbes), including to their membranes, proteins and genetic materials. The microbes are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of the copper ions when duplicating or reproducing. Bacteria and fungi have developed some mechanisms to tolerate excess copper. However, constant exposure to the copper concentrations causes toxicity and resistance to copper is low. Human skin is not sensitive to copper and the risk of adverse reactions due to dermal exposure to copper is thought to be extremely low. Companies are now beginning to produce copper impregnated goods such as blankets and socks and these are called ‘performance‘ products and are regularly used in the health care industry. One of the best selling products of Cupron Inc. are socks made from fibres "impregnated" with copper oxide and used as a prevention of athlete’s foot. The company hope to produce textiles containing tiny copper particles to help in the healing of diabetic ulcers. Diabetics frequently suffer from skin pathologies, especially in their feet. Co-moribund peripheral vascular disease and neuropathy exacerbate the capacity of these individuals to cope with infections, minor cuts and wounds, which often leading to hard to treat and chronic ulcers. The scientific community remains skeptical but there are studies ongoing. So it is a case of watch this space!
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