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The University of Southampton
Global Network for Anti-Microbial Resistance and Infection Prevention

Multidisciplinary Mapping Microbes study included in special COVID-19 issue of leading Geography Journal

Published: 1 June 2020
Simulated pathogens glowing on arms
Simulated pathogens glowing on arms after touching contaminated bedrail (Image: Paul Hurley)

NAMRIP’s long-running infection prevention mission (as evidenced by a continual programme of research studies and public engagement events dating back to the first studies NAMRIP funded) is aligned directly with the management of the current pandemic. National public health bodies and news outlets are making their own versions of NAMRIP’s widely-distributed ‘In our hands’ film in domestic and public spaces to explain how pathogens can travel and infect if effective hand-washing doesn’t break the transmission pathway. The film, created by the ‘Mapping Microbes’ team along with Bristol-based filmmaker Joseph Turp, creatively tells the story of the spread of pathogens in a simulated hospital ward using the aesthetic of starscapes, TV forensics or acid house raves. The voice-over for the film is Michael Rosen reciting his poem ‘These are the Hands’, written to salute the NHS at 60.


Relevant to the geographical theme of Infection, the ‘Mapping Microbes’ research project has now been included in a special online issue of the Royal Geographical Society’s journal ‘Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers’. All the articles featured in ‘Contextualizing Coronavirus Geographically’ describe geographical research linked to COVID-19.  

Funded by a NAMRIP pump priming award, the multidisciplinary team of researchers from social, health, biological, and engineering sciences, and the humanities used digital imaging technology to track human and microbial activity within a hospital ward. This enabled the researchers, working with nurses, to visualise pathogens, touch encounters and risk, and to think about their relationship with infection risk and transmission. The film has been a useful educational tool and screened at hospitals for staff and visitors.

The full title of the journal paper is ”Mapping microbial stories: Creative microbial aesthetic and cross‐disciplinary intervention in understanding nurses’ infection prevention practices” by Dr Emma Roe, Dr Charlotte Veal and Dr Paul Hurley.

Professor Leighton said “I have been thrilled with this project since its conception, and delighted to see that such a wide range of disciplines could collaborate in such an effective way, producing not only academic outputs but also training for healthcare professionals and public engagement. We all knew at the time that effective handwashing is critical to preventing local infections spreading to become epidemics and pandemics, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, because handwashing is effective even before you realise the scale of the problem, and you don’t have to wait the year or more for a vaccine. Well done this team, the authors and their extensive supporters across all those disciplines.”

The original project team also included Dr Jacqui Prieto and Professor Lisette Schoonhoven (nursing); Dr Sandra Wilks (microbiology); Dr Xunli Zhang and Dr Robert Zmijan (bioengineering); Professor Paul White, Professor Timothy Leighton and Dr Pina Gruden (statistics).

In collaboration with Wallgate Ltd and artists Matthew Olden and Will Datson, the team also developed a prototype video display station, incorporated into an automatic hand washing machine. The aim of the installation was to help broaden the impact of hand hygiene awareness. It was exhibited at Winchester Science Centre, Cheltenham Science Centre (which resulted in children singing Happy Birthday Twice while cleaning their hands in the toilets) and the 2017 NAMRIP conference where keynote speaker, Lord O’Neill highlighted it in his presentation. 

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