Time again for another installment of News You Can Use, highlights of news around the world and headlines that point out how we might want to consider alternatives to the way we’re doing things, especially in areas affecting our health. First, let’s start off with headlines about why hospitals are exactly the places you want to avoid if you want to remain healthy.

Caution: Hospitals are hazardous to your health. We think of hospitals as safe places to go, especially if when sick. But if we stop and think about it, many of us have stories about a friend, loved one or relative who went to the hospital for a minor health issue and because of the hospital, never came home.

If Netflix were actually worth the money, you could rent or view Oscar-winning movies from years past. The selection of movies available on Netflix is terrible because right before I canceled our subscription, I tried to book the classic The Hospital. It was nowhere to be found on Netflix and that’s a shame for anyone who wants to watch the scathing indictment of our Western healthcare system.

Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky won the Oscar and lead actor George C. Scott a nomination for the 1971 black comedy. A key plot device is the medical mistakes that happen in the hospital: wrong patients getting the wrong treatments; inept directions; covering up mistakes and so on. During it all, Scott’s character searches for meaning in his life and finds it isn’t in medicine. Yes, 40 years ago it was already common knowledge that hospitals were a dangerous place to visit. So it should come as no surprise that a recent statistical analysis revealed that a hospital stay is more dangerous than a trip on an airplane. In fact, the analysis showed that the risk of getting killed by a hospital is pretty high. Worldwide, the chance of experiencing a hospital error during your stay is an astonishing 1 in 10. Dying from that error is about 1 in 300. By comparison, the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 10 million, getting hit by lightning is 1 in 10,000 and getting bitten by a shark, 1 in 6.5 million.

Hospital air is a hospital error. One of the major problems with hospitals is the potential acquisition of life-threatening infection. In addition to surface contamination, the air in hospitals is a source of disease-causing pathogens. Because of modern building design flaws, air in a hospital is trapped. No fresh air is allowed in. When was the last time you opened a window in a hotel or hospital for fresh air?

Humans have come to believe that controlling an environment (an impossibility and a human fantasy) is the best way to keep people healthy. We act like we have an allergy to nature or something, which is really naïve. After all, it is nature that can keep us healthy.

So a 2007 peer-reviewed study found that older hospitals, ones with high ceilings and windows that open to allow fresh air flow, are safer and have fewer airborne pathogens than modern, sealed-up hospitals (PLoS, 2007, Volume 4, Issue 7.) That design flaw is just one small factor in what makes hospitals so hazardous to human health.

In the pre-air conditioning history of hospitals and large homes, windows that open, and circulating air, were considered most important to health. Many large colonial mansions in the Eastern United States, especially in warmer climes, have large, spacious rooms on the upper floor with multiple windows and sunny, southern exposure. Some are designated as sick-rooms, parts of the house where one recuperates. Light and fresh air are essential. Sunlight is a potent anti-microbial. Fresh air disperses airborne pathogens and oxidizes the patient. Such an environment, one that embraces nature rather than isolates one from it, is better for the patient.

Copper kills bugs. Another problem in hospitals and source of disease transmission is surface contamination. Health care workers — heck, everyone, it seems — are obsessed with smearing around chemicals that are advertised as “antibacterial” or “antimicrobial.” The idea, of course, is that these chemicals will keep us safe from infection. Antimicrobial soaps and hand gels are poorly researched and unregulated. They contain suspect chemicals that could result in unexpected consequences.

No one doubts the importance of hygiene and cleanliness in maintaining public health. The development of hygienic plumbing practices and water-treatment facilities brought civilization out of the Dark Ages and the Black Plague. But we’ve gone a little overboard in our use of chemicals in an attempt to control bacteria and pathogens. Now the news tells us there may be a simpler, longer lasting and less harmful way to combat surface contamination in hospitals.

A published study from trials conducted at three hospitals has shown that using copper surfaces cuts risks of hospital infection by 40.4 percent.

In hospitals, people handle door knobs, nurse call buttons, I.V. poles, bed railings and tray tables. These often become sources of infection. Using technology well known to ancient Greek and Egyptian doctors, the researchers replaced those surfaces with copper plating. Copper is antimicrobial by nature.

Data collected demonstrated a 97 per cent reduction in surface pathogens in rooms with copper surfaces.

Copper is one of many metals that show an ability to reduce pathogen populations on surfaces. Bronze and silver are also commonly cited in ancient historical documents.

One of the advantages of the copper connection is that pathogens don’t build up immunity and become superbugs. And the copper doesn’t have to be applied again and again.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at HeartlandHealing.com

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