Celebrating 10 years of e-Bug

Posted on February 8, 2019   by Rachel Exley

On 17-18 January, Microbiology Society member Dr Rachel Exley, lecturer at Oxford University, attended the Wellcome Trust to celebrate 10 years of e-Bug. The event focused on public education of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Here, Rachel discusses her experience at the event.

I had the opportunity to attend the e-Bug 10 Year Anniversary Meeting at the Wellcome Trust in London. Participation was one of the benefits available to me as a member of the Microbiology Society Communications Committee and, given my own interest in outreach and education for primary school aged children, I was eager to hear about how e-Bug has evolved and the plans for the future.

For those who may not be familiar with e-Bug, it is a project led by Public Health England (PHE) which aims to educate primary and secondary school pupils and young adults about microbiology, hygiene and preventing the spread of infection, as well as raising awareness of correct use of antibiotics to help tackle the recent rise in antimicrobial resistance. e-Bug began in 2006 as a European project to develop an educational ‘pack’ for teachers and students consisting of relevant public health lesson plans, activities and resources. Ten years on, e-Bug now offers training workshops for educators, provides a wide range of freely available materials such as online games, debate packs, lesson plans and activities for students and teachers as well as resources for community and peer-education. The project now includes partners from 28 countries, and the resources have been translated into more than 20 languages.

To celebrate these impressive achievements, a two-day meeting was organised by PHE and attended by partners, educators, healthcare workers, academics and many others. The first day consisted of a series of presentations about initiatives that have either used e-Bug materials or that align with the aims of the e-Bug project, for example ‘Antibiotic Guardian’, ‘Micro-combat’ and ‘The mould that changed the world’. The second day provided an insightful overview of how the e-Bug materials have been adapted for use in different countries, and for outside of the classroom (for example, for scout groups) followed by a Train the Trainer workshop. On both days, poster presentations, a microbiology education ‘marketplace’ of exhibits and networking lunches provided forum for discussion.

As all the presentations were interesting it is difficult to single out highlights to mention in more detail. However, the keynote address by Dr Cliodna McNulty, a founder of e-Bug, was one of the most memorable. She gave an inspiring synopsis of what she and the team have achieved which left me feeling enthused and keen to spread the word about this amazing project. Another highlight for me was the presentation by Nick Harris, a scientist turned secondary teacher who is passionate about involving school children in current research. Through a collaborative project involving the Swab and Send initiative at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and a network of schools in Sheffield associated with the Institute for Research in Schools, pupils from primary through to A-level are now taking part in a scheme to identify new antimicrobials. This involves them collecting samples from the environment, analysing results of screening and even annotating genomes of novel organisms!

One clear strength of the e-Bug project that was reflected by the comments from the audience is the extent to which the resources have been evaluated. Anyone who has done public engagement will know that while it is easy to get a sense of how much the audience enjoyed it, measuring the extent to which objectives have been met and impact is not so straightforward; yet this is key for assessing success and identifying how activities can be improved. A number of publications are available describing the assessment and evaluation of e-Bug resources which may prove useful for those considering how to evaluate their own activities.

With all this success, you might be wondering ‘What next for e-Bug?’ Well, as you might expect from a team with such passion and vision, it will continue to grow and develop. There are plans to extend use of the e-Bug resources to as many countries as possible, by translating and adapting as appropriate to different settings. The website is in process of being updated to make existing resources more accessible and novel resources to integrate relevant topics such as the impact of antibiotics on the microbiome are being developed.

I left the meeting with lots of ideas, a list of fantastic resources for teaching about hygiene, infection and antibiotics (see below) and feeling excited about how I might integrate these with my own outreach activities at local schools. The e-Bug project is an excellent example of just what can be achieved with passion, focus, determination and collaboration. With the recent publication of the UK’s five-year national action plan for tackling antimicrobial resistance, it is a good time to renew and reaffirm our efforts to increase awareness and understanding of this problem and what we can do to prevent it. With e-Bug and other similar initiatives, we can help to ensure that future generations appreciate exactly why microbiology matters.