The story

Today is World Health Day and the theme this year is antimicrobial resistance.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is introducing a six-point policy package to combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance in order to slow down not only its effect on the health of people today but to safeguard the effectiveness of antibiotics in the future.

One of the policies they have introduced is to enhance infection prevention and control.
A team of scientists at Southampton University took up this challenge and broadcast a live experiment  last Monday to show the effectiveness of copper on killing the antibiotic resistant ‘superbug’ MRSA.

They covered sterile plates made from copper and stainless steel and inoculated them with around 10 million bacteria.  Using fluorescent stains to see the bacteria, they quickly showed that the bacteria on the copper plates were killed after just 9 minutes while those on the steel remained unharmed.

These findings, although not new, will strengthen the case for using copper alloys for contact surfaces in hospitals.

Teaching idea

The PowerPoint I have uploaded can be used in a lesson to KS3 or 4 students when studying microbes.

The starter activity aims to find out what students already know about MRSA and then the experiment is introduced.  I have simplified the actual results from the experiment onto a flash animation which the students can watch and then comment on what they show.  You may also wish to show them the video from the New Scientist story which contains more detail about the experiment.

The final slide asks the students to discuss what these results have to do with door handles.  The answer being that using copper door handles in hospitals may help to stop the spread of MRSA infection.  You can then show the news item from ITN which shows the results of using these fittings in a hospital.

I have been thinking of ways of being able to try a version of the experiment in school.  It would be interesting to ask KS4 students if they could come up with their own plan to see of copper really does kill bacteria.  They could use a harmless E.coli culture and inoculate a sterile piece of copper and steel with a small volume of the culture; then leave the culture for 10 minutes before pouring it onto agar plates.  Leaving these for a couple of days will give any bacteria present a chance to multiply into colonies that can easily be studied and compared.  I have no idea of this would work but it would be fun finding out!

For other teaching ideas on stopping the spread of disease, inclusing ideas for KS2, take a look at this other Snapshot Science post.

Weblinks

The website of World Health Day

For more ideas on lesson ideas for World Health Day take a look at the Educational sites2see website

Story from the New Scientist

ITN news story video on a trial of using copper fittings in an Ipswich hospital

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