The ancient Greeks in the time of Hippocrates (400 BC) were the first to discover the sanitizing power of copper.
They prescribed copper for pulmonary diseases and for purifying drinking water. Since then, copper has been used as a biocide by many civilizations, such as the Celts, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Hindus, and Aztecs for treating sores and
skin diseases and for purifying water. By the 18th century copper had come into wide clinical use in the Western world for the treatment of mental disorders and afflictions of the lungs. Furthermore, in the 18th century it was discovered that no fungi grew on seed grains soaked in copper sulphate.
Beginning in the early 1950s , the biocidal properties of copper and copper compounds were demonstrated in controlled laboratory studies. The wide range of microorganisms, including gram negative and gram positive bacteria, yeast, fungi, and enveloped and non-enveloped viruses, shown to be killed by copper or copper compounds. Notably, copper surfaces or copper compounds have also been shown to be efficacious against hard-to-kill spores.
Today, copper biocides have become indispensable and many thousands of tons are used annually all over the world for i) the prevention of roof moss formation; ii) wood preservation; iii) the control of green slime in farm ponds, rice fields, irrigation and drainage canals, rivers, lakes, and swimming pools; iv) the prevention of downy mildew on grapes, and v) in antifouling paints.
The safety of copper also to humans and its potent biocidal properties allow the use of copper in many applications, including several that address medical concerns of the greatest importance. While some of these applications are already being amply used, novel possible applications of copper may have a major effect on our lives.
You can find more in the manuscript (by Gadi Borkow) about the biocidal mechanisms of copper and its current uses in the fight against transmission of health-associated (nosocomial) pathogens, foodborne diseases, dust mites loads and fungal and wound infections. Additionally about possible future applications such as filtration devices capable of deactivating contaminated blood products and breastmilk.