Baylor Study Believed First to Measure Staph, MRSA on a College Campus

November 3, 2008
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Findings Help Analyze Risk Factors, Provide Information for Future Prevention

A new Baylor University study has documented the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, on a college campus. It is believed to be the first time a study has looked at the topic in a healthy undergraduate student population.

While MRSA has been around since the 1960s, it is mainly found in hospitals, but more recently it has been found in other settings, making it a community health concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 30 percent of the U.S. population carries staph and .8 percent carries MRSA.

"College students come together from all over the world and live in crowded communities, share bathrooms, eating facilities and exercise equipment. These factors contribute to the transmission of germs," said Dr. Tamarah Adair, senior lecturer of biology at Baylor, who led the study. "We were interested in studying this population segment to answer questions about community-acquired staph."

Several antibiotics are successfully used to treat staph infections and one - vancomycin - is used to treat MRSA. The students in the Baylor study who were identified as carriers were made aware of their condition and advised to consult with their personal health care provider.

Baylor researchers stress that people can carry staph without developing a health risk, because the bacterium is very common.

"There is a lot of sensationalized information out there about staph and MRSA, but the truth is, many people carry them with no health problems to speak of," said Diane Hartman, microbiology lab coordinator for Baylor, who helped lead the study.

Adair and Hartman said the study helps begin efforts to understand staph found in a non-hospital setting.

"The data help analyze risk factors associated with carriers and provide information toward prevention strategies," said Hartman.

The researchers are continuing to survey students and will produce materials to inform the entire student population about the possibility that they could be carriers.

The Baylor researchers also found that the majority of students who did not carry staph or MRSA practiced healthy habits like keeping wounds covered, washing their hands regularly and not sharing personal items.

About the study

The Baylor researchers took samples from 736 students who lived on and off campus and found:

? Of the 736 students, 149, or 20.2 percent, carried staph and seven, or less than one percent, carried MRSA, which is a strain of staph resistant to methicillin and other related penicillin antibiotics commonly used to treat it. Of the seven students who carry MRSA, researchers found a variety of strains based on antibiotics sensitivity patterns:

o Three students had colonies that were resistant to the antibiotics Oxacillin and Penicillin, a common pattern seen in community acquired MRSA.
o Two had colonies resistant to Oxacillin, Penicillin and Erythromycin; one had colonies resistant to Oxacillin, Penicillin, Erythromycin, Ciprofloxacin and Cindamycin; and one had colonies resistant to Oxacillin, Penicillin, Erythromycin and Neomycin.
o Most of the staph strains identified in the study were sensitive to 10 of the 12 antibiotics tested; resistance to different antibiotics is usually associated with staph found in health care settings.

? Researchers also studied risk factors such as the students' type of living communities, roommate ratio, their hometowns and whether they shared a bathroom.

While Adair and Hartman led the study, Baylor undergraduates did the work. Adair said many of them were interested in applying techniques and ideas learned in class to their personal lives. Each student swabbed their nostril with a sterile swab and results were evaluated 24 hours later. Fermenters were isolated and the Kirby-Baur method was used to evaluate the sensitivity of each isolate to a variety of antibiotics.

From the study, the students have since made a research poster, a 10-minute video explaining the study and an informational brochure, which contains prevention tips and basic information about staph and MRSA. Adair said the hope is that the brochure would be given to incoming Baylor freshmen.

"The students really seemed to like being part of a 'real world' project and a lot of good is coming out of the education part of it," Adair said.

For more information, contact Frank Raczkiewicz, Science Writer and Assistant Vice President of Media Communications at Baylor, at (254) 710-1964.