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Texas State studies prevalence of drug-resistant 'super-bugs'

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
November 21, 2008

Rodney Rohde

Rodney Rohde

Rodney Rohde, a Clinical Laboratory Science associate professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, along with two undergraduate students have recently conducted a prevalence study of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA), as well as Staphylococcus aureus carriage, in a healthy undergraduate student population.

This study is one of the first conducted in a university population that investigates risk factors associated with college adults and staph/MRSA colonization.

MSRA, a disease dating back nearly 50 years, has a history of being associated with healthcare. However, it has now become a prevailing issue in the general public. MRSA is sometimes difficult to treat and can lead to high morbidity and even mortality if not controlled.

Rohde, a microbiologist in the CLS program, recently published (2007) “Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a Texas Jail Population” with coauthors from the Department of State Health Services in an edition of the Journal of Correctional Healthcare. It was during this project that Rohde realized little research had been conducted on this growing public health threat in a university population. At the time, two of Rohde’s CLS undergraduate students, Rebecca Denham and Aaron Brannon, had been following MRSA research due to coursework in Rohde’s clinical microbiology class. CLS students must conduct a research project at the end of their senior year as part of a course requirement in Clinical Laboratory Research.

“Becky and Aaron came to me in November of 2007 and asked me if they could set up a senior research project with MRSA,” Rohde said.

It was perfect timing since he wanted to conduct a pilot study in our student population. Denham and Brannon, under Rohde’s supervision, applied for IRB approval, helped with the research design and data collection and analysis.

Student volunteers participating in the study swabbed their nostrils with a sterile swab. The swabs were taken back to the CLS microbiology laboratory and assessed for S. aureus and MRSA and evaluated for sensitivity to a variety of antibiotics.

Each student filled out a survey that included demographics (age, sex, and ethnicity), antibiotic use and history, health-associated factors, if they lived on or off campus, and other risk factors. Rohde also added a component to assess students’ awareness and knowledge about MRSA. The results were analyzed to identify any statistically significant risk factors associated with S. aureus or MRSA colonization.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 30 percent of the population in the United States carries “regular staph” and roughly 1 percent carries MRSA. Based on the preliminary results, the student carriage rate of “regular staph” at Texas State University was almost synonymous with CDC estimates. However, MRSA colonization approached a much higher rate than is typically expected in the general population.

“It’s important to remember that this study was conducted on only 200 students,” Rohde said. “A larger sample needs to be conducted in the future to generalize these results to the entire student population.”

Rohde explained that just because a person is a carrier doesn't mean that they will develop a health risk. Colonization only means that a person has the potential to transmit the organism to others or infect themselves if conditions exist for that to happen.

“I am so very proud of Becky and Aaron with respect to how much they have learned about the culture of research,” said Rohde.

Brannon is currently finishing up his coursework, and Denham graduated in August of 2008 and has begun working on an MPH at University of Texas. This project will have a springboard affect on each of their future careers in clinical laboratory science and beyond. The study has been accepted by the Texas State Honors Undergraduate Research Conference and Thesis Forum. Denham and Brannon will give an oral presentation on the study on Thursday, Dec. 4. Additionally, they will have a poster presentation from on Friday, Dec. 5.

"I have a passion for research and introducing it into my courses. Students get excited about seeing and doing research to enhance their subject knowledge rather than it being just a textbook to them," Rohde said. "The scientific culture is of questioning and testing, and many students don't know they love that until they get the chance to try it for themselves."

Rohde and his students are currently preparing to submit the study for publication in the Journal of Clinical Laboratory Science.
“What a fantastic opportunity for these students to publish as Texas State undergraduates,” Rohde said.

Rohde plans to use the data from this MRSA pilot study to build a more in-depth research project for his dissertation in the college of education’s doctoral program as anadult professional continuing education major.

“I hope to build on this study to gain insight into the lack of awareness, understanding, knowledge and learning needs (gaps in knowledge) of adults in the general public,” Rohde said. “We have basically no research being conducted in the United States on this topic and very little abroad. My intent is to try and answer these important questions which have major implications for public health education of university officials and students with respect to potential MRSA outbreaks in the general population, including a university.”

For more information about MRSA, visit Rohde’s website at www.txstate.edu/~rr33 and the CLS program http://www.health.txstate.edu/cls/.