Her mother’s bout with a superbug was the inspiration for Saanich student Zofka Svec’s award-winning project at the 2016 Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair.
The 12-year-old Maria Montessori Academy student earned WorkSafeBC’s Al Appleton award after demonstrating what could be an effective disinfectant for the hospital superbug, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile).
Zofka’s project, which took eight months to complete and was displayed at the University of Victoria, studied the effectiveness of seven different disinfectants including varying strengths of ethanol, diluted hydrogen peroxide, quaternary ammonium salt, a thyme oil derivative and bleach.
“I thought bleach would work best because it’s what’s currently used in hospitals,” says Zofka. “I learned that 30 per cent diluted hydrogen peroxide was 98 per cent effective on Bacillus subtilis, a similar, but safer, bacteria to handle than C. difficile.”
Zofka’s interest in stopping the spread of disease was triggered after her mother contracted and survived a C. difficile infection.
“I wanted to help others like my mom because I found out this was a really big problem in hospitals,” she said.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, C. difficile is one of the most common infections found in hospitals and long-term care facilities; symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
“Zofka’s project was [selected as] the winner because she showed a level of understanding that this could have a big potential impact on health care,” said Ray Merriman, WorkSafeBC occupational hygiene officer and award judge.
Created in memory of Al Appleton, long-serving WorkSafeBC prevention manager and occupational hygiene officer, provincial awards are given annually to B.C. students in Grades 7–12 whose projects best demonstrate the principles of occupational hygiene: identifying, assessing and controlling health hazards in the workplace.
Zofka is planning on pursuing a career in virology, immunology and disease prevention.
“That’s what I want to do with my life – stop the spread of disease,” she said.