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Study Measures Staph, MRSA On A College Campus

March 3, 2009

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 0.8 percent carries MRSA.

"College students come together from all over the world and live in crowded communities, sharing bathrooms, eating facilities and exercise equipment. These factors contribute to the transmission of germs," said Dr. Tamarah Adair, BS '85, MS '96, PhD '98, 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."

The researchers took samples from 736 students living on and off campus and found 149 (20.2 percent) carried staph and seven (less than 1 percent) carried MRSA, which is a strain of staph resistant to methicillin and other related penicillin antibiotics. 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.

While Adair and microbiology lab coordinator Diane Hartman led the study, Baylor undergraduates did the work. 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.

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