April 18, 2019  

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Southern Miss, Forrest General Hospital Collaboration Helps Uncover Staph Infection Risk Factors

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Southern Miss graduate students Dhritiman Samanta, foreground, and Justin Batte are conducting research to determine the risk factors for contracting Staph infection. (Submitted photo)

With antibiotic-resistant Staph infection becoming more prevalent – especially in the southeastern U.S. -- researchers at The University of Southern Mississippi and Forrest General Hospital embarked on a campaign to reduce the morbidity and mortality in those affected by Staph infections.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the causative agent of most Staph infection, is triggered by Staphylococcus bacteria, a type of germ that lives on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. There are approximately 86,000 cases and 11,000 deaths per year in the United States from what is commonly known as Staph infection.

Previously, there had been no studies to show risk factors for having highly resistant MRSA for those in the Southeast region of the United States, and particularly in Mississippi.

After seeing many cases of MRSA in which the infection was resistant to antibiotics, Dr. Mohamed Elasri, professor at The University of Southern Mississippi and director of Mississippi INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) joined forces with Dr. Luis Marcos, medical director of the Infection Prevention Department and Head of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Forrest General, to make a difference.

“We are very excited about our partnership with Forrest General Hospital. Dr. Marcos is very dedicated to reducing the rates of Staph for his patients, and we have the expertise to study Staph at the molecular level,” said Elasri. “I anticipate that this collaboration will continue to be very productive.”

As Marcos collected patient information and MRSA samples, Elasri’s lab, through funding from Mississippi INBRE, was able to assist with the experiments and antibiotic testing.

Dhritiman Samanta and Justin Batte, graduate students in Elasri’s lab, noted that there are different strains of MRSA in different areas of the United States. Because not all antibiotics will kill the bacteria of every strain, it is important to know which is best to use on each patient.

“We needed an idea of what will kill the bacteria that’s causing the infection, so we tested a variety of antibiotics on the isolated strains of MRSA to discover what drug would best kill the bacteria of each isolate tested,” said Batte.

After analyzing a total of 30 patients, researchers identified several risk factors to be associated with highly antibiotic-resistant Staph infections. These factors can be used to predict outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Staph infections in the hospital’s future. Factors included prior hospital stay, coming from a nursing home, prior antibiotic use and the presence of a gene called PVL in the infecting strain.

“After this paper was published, we actually isolated a very highly resistant strain of Staph from the same hospital,” added Samanta. “Currently, we are analyzing that strain with molecular techniques and in the future we will study the patient’s medical history to find out if any of the risk factors that we identified earlier exist there.”

Samanta further explained that this research will not only aide in diagnosing MRSA, but will also help in forecasting which strains will be prevalent in a patient according to genetic factors.

“This research is helping us to identify risk factors associated with MRSA infections. If we can just do interventions to reduce the transmission of MRSA among healthcare facilities, this could potentially reduce the severe MRSA infections that place these patients into the hospital,” added Marcos.

Mississippi INBRE is a statewide program that is supported by an award from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences. Its mission is to enhance the biomedical foundation in Mississippi and to reach out to Mississippians in order to improve health throughout the state.

For more information about Mississippi INBRE, visit: msinbre.org.