A group of twelve UMHS students have teamed up with their professors of microbiology to undertake a research project to determine the types and levels of mold exposure from the air they breathe here in St. Kitts. Dr. Girish J. Kotwal, Professor of Microbiology and Biochemistry at University of Medicine and Health Sciences is overseeing this study entitled <strong“Fungal Analysis of the Air in St. Kitts”, with the collaboration of his colleague Dr. James Adekeye, Professor of Microbiology. A team of a dozen students, spanning from the second to final semesters, enthusiastically joined in the investigation. They include James Bassford – Med 3, Atandra Burman – EBS 3, Nalliene Chavez – EBS 5, Zachary Ciochetto – EBS 2, Kristen Duman – Med 3, Elise Landa – Med 4, Alyssa Mahon – Med 3, Samuel Park – Med 3, Aminah Phelps – Med 3, Irshad Prasla – EBS 2, Harleen Saini – EBS 2, and Torib Uchel – EBS 4. Ms Dacia Fraser is providing sterilized culture plates.

UMHS students investigate air-borne molds in St. Kitts.
Air-borne mold study student research team in the UMHS Microbiology Lab.

Why is this an important study?
Due to the increased incidence of AIDS, diabetes, and cancers; along with higher numbers of transplantations and chemotherapies around the globe in our century, we are seeing an increased number of immune-compromised and immune-suppressed patients. This is affecting an increase in the incidence of nosocomial infections due to the common molds found in the air. In addition, an increase in mold counts is contributing to an elevation in instances of seasonal allergies. But an even more serious concern is the need to prevent further deadly outbreaks of fungal meningitis. Hence, establishing a base line regarding the presence of air-borne molds in St. Kitts would provide valuable insight that might ultimately help prevent and combat instances of disease!

The case of one recent fungal outbreak highlights the seriousness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there recently occurred a multistate outbreak of noncontiguous meningitis resulting in 51 deaths in the US, which was attributed to 730 fungal infections, predominantly identified as Exserohilum rostratum. Additionally, 22 fungal species were identified during the outbreak. The source of the contamination was traced to the place where the product formulation was carried out prior to delivery to 20 American states. The result was steroid injections contaminated with the fungi being injected into both spinal cords and peripheral joints!

This could have occurred due to the lack of compliance with proper guidelines for good manufacturing practices or due to quality control not being followed. In any case the distribution of the contaminated batches of the steroid should and could have been prevented! One guideline for maintaining quality control would be to ensure the sterility of all products. Sterility of products could have been tested on culture plates to determine whether bacteria, molds and viruses are present. In addition, the air could have been monitored for a differential mold count. Incidentally, Dr. Kotwal has been invited to speak about this outbreak and how it could have been prevented, at the Third Annual International Symposium on Mycology (ISM 2013) to be held in Wuhan, China in July 2013. His presentation is entitled “Fungal Meningitis Outbreak of 2012 in the USA: How could it have been prevented.”

UMHS Microbiology Lab
UMHS students investigate air-borne molds in St. Kitts.

Developing a protocol:
For the UMHS study, a standardized protocol was planned for monitoring the molds in the air we breathe that would reflect the quantity and diversity in our atmosphere. We are all eager to learn the results of the study but will have to await publication. It is however the hope of the research team that their protocol may serve to provide a benchmark for further studies and replication by other facilities around the world, thereby contributing to a reduction in the instance of mold-related allergies, the prevention of illness due to air-borne molds, and a decrease in deaths due to fungal meningitis infections.

About UMHS:

About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciences focuses on individualized student attention, small class sizes and recruiting high quality faculty. For these reasons, UMHS is quickly becoming the school of choice among Caribbean medical schools.

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