Editor’s Note: Dr. Jane Harrington is Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at UMHS. This blog post is about the accomplishments of the first UMHS Medical Research Elective class (for which Dr. Harrington is Course Director) in Spring 2015 at UMHS, one of the leading Caribbean medical schools.
By Dr. Jane Harrington
The Spring 2015 semester was a busy time for the students enrolled in the first-time offered UMHS Medical Research Elective course. The class met on a weekly basis to develop writing skills and to present project proposals and journal articles. In addition to course work, each student pursued an independent research project described below and collaborated with AMSA to conduct a Blood Typing lab session.
EBS5 students Victoria Gonzalez and Bernadette Schmidt completed all data collection and analysis for the UMHS Surface Microbial Contaminant project, continuing from their work from last semester. Their findings characterized over 200 bacterial isolates from 100 unique sites on campus, including predominant frequency of Staphylococcus epidermis. Of medical concern, 30 sampled locations yielded Staphylococcus aureus isolates, including 7 Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) cultured from faucet and paper towel handles in both men and women’s bathrooms outside Auditorium. The team have successfully drafted an original journal article, which is planned for submission in early fall.
EBS4 students Katie Plemmons and Geneviève Aubé investigated microbial loads on 60 personal data devices of students, including cell phones and tablets before and after use of alcohol swabs. All devices showed microbial contamination, regardless of cleaning. Of interest, the fungal counts were much higher than previous comparable studies, most likely due to the warm tropical environment, which is conducive to fungal growth. Although alcohol cleaning reduced fungal loads (~27% reduction), some bacterial species were over-represented post-cleaning (~38% increase). These findings suggest that an alternative method should be utilized to disinfect phones.
EBS3 students Laura Mena-Albors and Wined Ramirez initiated a public outreach project, teaching children about hand hygiene and the presence of microbes on surfaces. The team visited SKI Academy to work with a group of kindergarten students and invited a group of teens from St Kitts Youth Leadership camp to the UMHS campus. The lessons include instructing students about the differences between bacteria and fungi and the differences between beneficial and harmful microbes. The activities include testing a hypothesis of the most effective hand-cleaning and surface-cleaning methods with sampling and culturing environmental microbial samples, which engages students in the Scientific Process. Of note, Dr. Harrington’s daughter Sara Jane joined in the fun!
EBS2 student Samah Halbouni analyzed the incidence of mosquito-borne tropical diseases to develop a project plan for an epidemiological student that determines risk for medical students residing in the Caribbean. In theory, medical students can contract Chikagunya virus in St Kitts, travel to states like Florida where Aedes mosquito is endemic, and further transmit the tropical disease. Furthermore, Samah hypothesizes that Puerto Rican students with a history of Dengue disease are at risk of contracting a different serotype of Dengue virus that is present in St Kitts, thus putting them at risk of Dengue Hemorrhagic Disease. The study will be conducted via anonymous questionnaire next fall.
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