Researchers at Northern Arizona University’s Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics, or MGGen, are putting out a call for poop.
The request is part of a community study on two nasty infection-causing bacteria in order to identify how the bugs are being carried around Flagstaff, AZ and how they are making their way into the hospital.
The researchers say the pathogens could be present on any number of things, from dogs to ground meat to humans themselves.
It is hoped that confirming those reservoirs and tracking how the bacteria are transmitted will lead to new recommendations for how people and hospitals can better prevent the infections, the researchers said.
The two bacteria, Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, and Staphylococcus aureus, or Staph, are important to study because they are notorious for causing hospital-acquired infections that are often difficult to treat.
Staph can cause skin and respiratory infections while symptoms of C. diff infections include diarrhea and fever.
For the research project, MGGen scientists are comparing Staph and C. diff bacteria collected from sick patients at Flagstaff Medical Center to those bacteria carried by healthy people.
Samples of the latter come from volunteers willing to provide a swab from inside their nose and a swab of their fecal material from used toilet tissue. The researchers have received 65 healthy community member samples and their goal is to get 500 by next April.
MGGen’s specialty is whole genome sequencing, which allows scientists to compare even the tiniest genetic variations between the samples. With that, they can tell how closely the samples are related, indicating potential transmission paths.
The study has found: that the bacteria strains in ill patients don’t match those found in other hospital cases, indicating the organisms aren’t lingering in the hospital and being transmitted from patient to patient but are being acquired by people before they get into the hospital, said Heidie Hornstra O’Neill, research project coordinator at MGGen.
both bacteria species can live on and in healthy people without causing any problems, one possibility is that the pathogen hangs out in people’s bodies without causing any symptoms and then proliferates when the immune systems is weakened.
It could also be that only certain strains of the bacteria cause disease while others do not. About a third of people carry Staph bacteria, for example, but only a small percentage of people get a Staph infection, which could mean only some strains are dangerous, said Paul Keim, lab director at MGGen.
The researchers are collecting demographic information as well to see if a person’s gender, ethnicity or access to healthcare plays a role in whether they carry the bacteria.
DOG POO SAMPLES: Another potential source of C. diff bacteria, especially in a place like Flagstaff, is dogs, said Nate Stone, a research specialist at MGGen. Stone searched the sidewalks of Flagstaff for four months in the fall of 2014, collecting samples of dog poop to test them for C. diff. He found the bacteria were present in 17 percent of the 200 samples and half of the strains found are common in human C. diff infections.
“We don’t know if dogs are giving humans C. diff or humans are giving dogs C. diff, but we do know dogs are carrying C. diff strains that can cause infections in humans, so they are probably one part of the story,” Stone said.
Next up, he’ll use genetic analysis to see if any bacteria from the dog poop samples match human samples, suggesting direct transmission.
Another possible C. diff reservoir is meat, and that’s also on Stone’s future research agenda.
The end goal of providing more data on these infection-causing bacteria is to help everyone from ordinary citizens to medical organizations figure out better ways to prevent them, Stone and Keim said.
“The reservoir stuff is fascinating because we think we can affect the way people live,” Keim said.
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