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Real-World Classroom Connections: Hospital-Acquired Infections and Super Bugs

Philip Ferralli
Product Manager, AP* Biology, Biotechnology, Genetics, and Forensics

Teachers are always looking for new ways to engage their students and create intrigue in the classroom. There is no better means to accomplish this task than by building a unique lesson plan that ties together real-world examples, inquiry investigations, and Glo-Germ™.

At an early age many of us had parents who started ingraining a fear of germs into our minds. Those parents knew proper hygiene was pivotal to lowering the risk of contamination or disease. We still live in a world where we are constantly in contact with other people and different types of germ-laden surfaces—such as those in public restrooms and on school buses, classroom desks, and even other people's hands. Most of us realize that through using anti-bacterial soaps, hand sanitizer, and other measures of proper hygiene, we have the ability to prevent infections that disease-causing organisms spread. One thing students may not have thought of, however, is the safety of people—for example, hospital patients—unable to control their hygiene or exposure levels to harmful organisms.

What is an HAI?

Escherichia coli, w.m. Microscope Slide

Hospital-acquired infection (HAI), defined as any infection acquired during a stay in a healthcare facility, is a growing problem in the US. Susceptibility to HAIs differs between groups of people, but typically, young children and the elderly are at the highest risk. Many infections involve or result from open wounds, surgical sites, or the placement of medical devices, such as catheters and IVs.

HAIs are a leading cause of death and illness for hospital patients and represent huge costs for the healthcare system. Prevention and treatment of HAIs have advanced in recent years with the implementation of many initiatives designed to minimize the transfer of pathogens and to treat HAIs more effectively when they do occur.

Connecting HAIs to your classroom

Have your students begin by researching current issues regarding HAIs or by providing students with journal or news articles that provide background on the topic. Below are suggestions for activities that incorporate the study of HAIs into your classroom.

  • Proper hand sanitation and cleaning
    A great way to bring the importance of hand and surface sanitation into your classroom is to have students use Glo Germ™ Liquid and Glo Germ™ Powder to test how well various sanitizer and treatment processes rid hands or surfaces of microorganisms. Provide your students a scenario that asks them to lower a hospital's rate of HAIs. To do so they could try different protocols, such as varying the time of treatment or reagents used, to determine the best procedure to minimize the risk of spreading pathogens throughout the hospital. Students could also set up a demonstration of how easy it is to spread pathogens between areas in a hospital.

  • Antibiotic resistance and super bugs
    Another more advanced way to introduce the study of HAIs into your classroom is to teach students about antibiotic resistance and the impact that overuse of antibiotics has on society. Your students are probably familiar with the headline-grabbing term super bug, the common name for an organism with such resistance. You can combine the concept of multi-drug resistance with an activity such as Carolina BioKits™: Antibiotic Sensitivity or the Antibiotics in Action kit and allow students to practice hands-on microbiology skills while learning more about topical issues in their environment.

Combing your learning objectives and real-world scenarios not only excites your students in the classroom but also creates a stronger link between them and the material at test time. In this case, it may also prompt them to wash their hands more often.


*AP is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, these products.