Research Team Develops School Outreach Program for Hard-to-Treat Staph Infection
In 2006, Julie Senita and Stacy Rose, faculty members in the Associate Degree in Nursing program at Kent State University at Ashtabula (KSUA), became aware of an apparent increase in the number of cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in Ashtabula County schools.
MRSA is a type of Staphyloccous aureus (staph) bacteria that is not easily killed by typical antibiotics. It is a major cause of skin infections in the United States, affecting about 2 million people.
"Stacy and I have children who attend different schools in Ashtabula County," says Senita. "Through our involvements in school and community activities, we were both hearing about more frequent reports of MSRA cases." At the same time, a tremendous amount of national media attention was being given to the sharp increase of cases of this difficult-to-treat bacteria throughout the United States.
Concerned about this marked increase in infections locally, Senita and Rose approached the Department of Biological Sciences Department's Thierry Delorme and Payman Nasr about creating a focus group to study the MRSA spread in Northeastern Ohio, particularly in Ashtabula County.
Delorme was interested in conducting such a study that so specifically fit his area of interest. "My background is in microbial ecology," says Delorme. "And to be able to conduct research in this field that would support and potentially help the local community was an exciting proposition to me."
Shortly thereafter, Cynthia Callahan, RN, Infection Control Preventionist at Ashtabula Country Medical Center (ACMC), joined the study group, and a formal cooperative agreement between ACMC and Kent State Ashtabula came about.
A retrospective survey was done on all staphylococcal infections diagnosed by Ashtabula County Medical Center from 2005-2007. The findings showed a record increase of 77 percent in MRSA infections from 2006 to 2007, particularly noticeable among youngsters (6 to 25 years), the middle-aged (45 to 50 years) and the elderly (86 to 90 years). The rates in Northeastern Ohio were 20 time higher than those previously published by the Center for Diseases Control in 2007.
"We suspect that the current socioeconomic conditions in Northeast Ohio may have limited the dissemination of the MRSA-related information in the community, especially in schools," said Delorme. "At that time, while many school systems were aware of the potential MRSA problem, few schools were actively controlling the outbreak by providing extensive information to students and parents."
These findings prompted the research team to develop an association with the local school district. An outreach effort was created, which included a "How to Recognize MRSA in School and How to Avoid It" brochure that was distributed to more than 2,500 students. The brochure, developed cooperatively by members of the local school district and Kent State University at Ashtabula, was funded by a small grant from the Division of Research and Graduate Studies. In addition to the development of the brochure, members of the Kent State Ashtabula faculty visited a variety of school settings presenting the information on MRSA.
"Our visits to the schools elicited invitations from other community organizations to present our findings and discuss how to avoid this potentially serious infection," says Rose.
In January 2008, the early findings were used to submit a brief communication to the Ohio Journal of Sciences, titled "Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus Among Younger Populations in Northeast Ohio." This paper was presented at the 118th Annual Meeting of the Ohio Academy of Sciences in Springfield, Ohio. Another paper written by the research team, "How to Recognize MRSA Infection in Schools and How to Avoid it – Enhancing Faculty Development Through Collaboration Among Disciplines and Community Resources," was presented at various nursing conference in Columbus, Ohio; New Orleans, La.; and Orlando, Fla. Additional presentations and publications have been disseminated over the past few years.
The statistical analysis of local data continues. In 2008, a Research and Grad grant of $6,500 was awarded to Dr. Delorme for a genetic study of the current MRSA explosion in Northeastern Ohio. "The purpose of the genetic study is to determine how strains of the MRSA bacteria are evolving," states Delorme.MRSA was previously known for being an infection found only in sick people in hospitals, but what started as a "hospital-acquired" infection has now become a "community-acquired" infection. "Our initial findings show that 70 percent of the cases are from people who got the infection at school or work – the community outside of the hospital," Delorme continues. "I'm looking at data from 2005-2010 to determine whether its prevalence continues to increase or if the problem is being controlled."