Experiences of the First 16 Hospitals

Using Copper–Silver Ionization for Legionella Control: Implications for the Evaluation of Other Disinfection Modalities

August 2003

Janet E. Stout, PhD; Victor L. Yu, MD


Hospital-acquired legionnaires’ disease can be prevented by disinfection of hospital water systems. This study assessed the long-term efficacy of copper–silver ionization as a disinfection method in controlling Legionella in hospital water systems and reducing the incidence of hospital-acquired legionnaires’ disease. A standardized, evidencebased approach to assist hospitals with decision making concerning the possible purchase of a disinfection system is presented.


The first 16 hospitals to install copper–silver ionization systems for Legionella disinfection were surveyed. Surveys conducted in 1995 and 2000 documented the experiences of the hospitals with maintenance of the system, contamination of water with Legionella, and occurrence of hospitalacquired legionnaires’ disease. All were acute care hospitals with a mean of 435 beds.


All 16 hospitals reported cases of hospitalacquired legionnaires’ disease prior to installing the copper–silver ionization system. Seventy-five percent had previously attempted other disinfection methods including superheat and flush, ultraviolet light, and hyperchlorination. By 2000, the ionization systems had been operational from 5 to 11 years. Prior to installation, 47% of the hospitals reported that more than 30% of distal water sites yielded Legionella. In 1995, after installation, 50% of the hospitals reported 0% positivity, and 43% still reported 0% in 2000. Moreover, no cases of hospital-acquired legionnaires’ disease have occurred in any hospital since 1995.



This study represents the final step in a proposed 4-step evaluation process of disinfection systems that includes (1) demonstrated efficacy of Legionella eradication in vitro using laboratory assays, (2) anecdotal experiences in preventing legionnaires’ disease in individual hospitals, (3) controlled studies in individual hospitals, and (4) validation in confirmatory reports from multiple hospitals during a prolonged time (5 to 11 years in this study).
Copper–silver ionization is now the only disinfection modality to have fulfilled all four evaluation criteria

 (Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2003;24:563-568).