UMHS Students Conduct Microbial Survey on Campus

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UMHS Students Conduct Microbial Survey on Campus


BUGS ON UMHS CAMPUS: Oxacillin-resistant Staph aureus isolate (pictured). UMHS students are collecting samples of bacteria on everything from computer keyboards to treadmill handles in the gym on campus as part of a microbial study.


What microbial bugs are on the UMHS campus, from computer keyboards to door handles? A group of EBS4 students is determined to find out as part of a new research project.


The UMHS Endeavour takes a brief look at what students at UMHS, one of the leading Caribbean medical schools, are doing to learn about bacteria right on the St. Kitts campus in an effort to understand how people can be exposed to potentially harmful human pathogens (things that can make us ill) on a daily basis. 


UMHS students Bernadette Schmidt, Victoria Gonzalez and Freddie Irizarry, working under the supervision of bacteriologist and UMHS Course Director and Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Dr. Jane Harrington, Ph.D., are conducting a surface microbial survey of 100 sites on the UMHS campus.

“Many medically relevant bacteria have been identified, including Staph aureus, Staph epidermidis and Pseudomonas,” Dr. Harrington said. “Students are conducting antibiotic susceptibility profiles of all S.aureus isolates and we have already identified methicillin-resistant strains. We will be releasing the complete results at the end of the semester.”


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says ( ). In many health-care settings, MRSA can cause dangerous bloodstream infections, pneumonia and surgical site infections.


The UMHS Research Wiki homepage ( notes that students are participating in the project “to collect, identify and characterize bacterial species found within our local environment.” This helps future doctors understand just how we come into contact with “potential human bacterial pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus.”


The project’s first stage examines surface contaminants on the UMHS campus. “Subsequent stages will include sampling of local hospital, environmental water runoff, mountain-fed streams and fecal samples of wild Vervet monkeys,” according to the UMHS Research Wiki homepage.


In addition to keyboards and computers, samples were swabbed in bathrooms, doorknobs, the library, treadmill handles in the gym, coffee pots, microwaves, and more (part of the 100 sites). The students are “currently characterizing more than 200 isolates,” the UMHS Research Wiki homepage says.




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