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7th Graders Learn About Disease Prevention from Two M.D. Moms

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Viruses may be microscopic, but as many of us know all too well this time of year, they can still pack a mighty punch. Heathwood 7th graders recently learned more about how to combat viruses from two Heathwood moms, Dr. Linda Bell and Dr. Sharon Weissman.

The visit from Dr. Bell and Dr. Weissman coincided with the 7th grade’s multi-disciplinary study of pathogens and how they cause disease. In addition to exploring the science of pathogens and disease prevention, students are reading a novel about the 1950s US polio epidemic in English, investigating international trends in medicine in Geography, and learning about the relative sizes of cells and pathogens using ratios in math. Each student is also undertaking an individual research project on a topic related to polio.

Dr. Bell, who is State Epidemiologist at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, shared with the students both an overview and specific examples of the work epidemiologists do to protect populations from disease outbreaks and to help minimize other kinds of health risks, from traffic deaths to the consequences of smoking. In particular, she talked about the impact vaccines have had on public health, noting that they have effectively eradicated diseases like measles and polio in the United States.

Dr. Weissman, a Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine and Program Director for Infectious Disease at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, spoke about her work treating patients with acute and chronic infections. “Dr. Bell works with populations, and I work with individuals,” she said. She also talked about the work she and other infectious disease specialists do to help prevent the spread of infection. Sometimes it’s the most basic steps, like using hand sanitizer and coughing into your elbow rather than your hand, that can have the biggest impact, she said.

With Dr. Weissman’s help, the students also began an experiment to assess the amount of bacteria we can pick up just through contact with other people, and the comparative effectiveness of hand sanitizer and soap and water in cleaning bacteria from our hands.

The 7th graders will continue their study of pathogens in all their core classes, culminating in a Museum Walk, where each will write up the results of their research projects, then make QR codes linking to their reports, which they’ll post on the fronts of their lockers so other students can easily access and read their findings.