Park City High School students got a firsthand look at how communicable diseases and public health work earlier this school year. In a collaborative project with the Summit County Health Department, the University of Utah and Bio Fire Diagnostics, an Idaho-based clinical diagnostics company, students in the high school participated in a grant project that tested rapid viral diagnostic technology and the presence of viruses in the school.

"It's important for people to see what the health department does and to see it out in the community," said Richard Bullough, director of the Summit County Health Department. "I think this project did that."

In October, the health department and university students went into classrooms and collected nasal swab samples to tested students to see if, and what, communicable diseases may be in the school. In 45 minutes, they collected 900 nasal swabs from students and teachers. Using special machines that can test for 20 viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens in just more than an hour, students were able to see same-day results.

"I think the exposure of seeing the university, the microscope set up, the transporting of swabs, the presentations in the classroom and why we were doing this, it was very educational for students," said PCHS Nurse Gina Agy. "Preventative measures in health are paramount, from covering your cough to staying home when you are sick, because this is how communicable diseases are spread.


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After nearly a year in planning, the project results were presented to the Summit County Board of Health this week, relaying the benefits of the partnerships to board members. Though only a handful of common cold viruses came up in the study, the Coronavirus and the Human Rhinovirus, the potential uses of the specialized machines could reach into classrooms again, said Carolyn Rose, the Nursing Director for the Summit County Health Department.

The first cases of H1N1 in the state appeared in Summit County in 2009, and the Center for Disease Control was keeping a close eye on the virus, which some health experts originally worried could mimic the Spanish Flu Virus. Rather than wait for symptoms, Rose said the application of the study could be recreated if another virus such as H1N1 emerged.

"H1N1 created a lot of chaos, and it was scary," Rose said. " It would depend on the virus, and when you're looking at that and it makes sense, we could test a whole school in a very short amount of time It was a good learning experience and a good way to build these partnerships."

Beyond the implications for the health department and the ability to stem communicable diseases from spreading in schools, Rose said the study could impact students' interest in health.

"It is important that students get some real life experience with public health," she added. "It could lead students into a new career, to go into health or the technological side of the study."