Grade 7 student discovers C. difficile disinfectant

Victoria student Zofka Svec, age 12, earned WorkSafeBC's Al Appleton award after demonstrating what could be an effective disinfectant for hospital superbug, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) at the 2016 Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair.
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," said 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 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 BC students in Grades 7–12 whose projects best demonstrate the principles of occupational hygiene: identifying, assessing and controlling health hazards in the workplace.

Zofka, who attends Maria Montessori Academy, 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.