Staphylococcus aureus infections are a common cause of disease, particularly in colonized people. They frequently cause staph infections and are often dubbed “Super Staph” because they are virulent and multidrug resistant. Recently, a series of published articles have reported that community-acquired methicillin-resistant S. aureus (CA-MRSA) strains are evolving and becoming more prevalent in households. In contrast, health care acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA) is declining in the United States. The changing “Superbugs” have often been used as an example of “evolution in action.” Although MRSA infections have become more prevalent in the community, studies of college students carrying S. aureus and MRSA colonization are lacking. In early studies at Liberty University, we have found that students in microbiology classes who have more contact with individuals in a healthcare setting are more likely to carry MRSA in their body. The classes that had the highest rate of HA-MRSA carriage were those primarily populated by nursing students. Nursing students typically have greater exposure to clinical settings and nursing homes than students in other fields of study. However, in research collected this past year, 2014–2015, we observed a shift to students of many majors now carrying CA-MRSA.
At Liberty University, we sampled 544 students and had up to 20%+ MRSA rates common among clinically oriented students, five to ten times the national average. We have seen a changing profile from HA-MRSA to CA-MRSA; this change has the potential to be dangerous, since the new strains are more virulent and aggressive. CA-MRSA is somewhat difficult to define, but is mostly associated with antibiotic profile, toxin genes, and place of acquisition. There is a variation of S. aureusstrains, but most change is found in tightly knit groups: households, dorms, and other close living quarters. The bacteria are “ping-ponging” around among students, changing as they go.
This change is real and clearly indicates an emergence of new MRSA variants that some may call microevolution. It is, however, not Darwinian upward-onward evolution but clearly adaptive changes within a species: variants on a theme. MRSA strains are acquiring more genes as they “ping-pong” from one person to another. They change their virulence as they pick up more foreign genes (via phage or plasmids) and vary as they go.
The purpose of this article is to provide a reasonable explanation for the genesis, emergence, and the new dominance of Community-associated (CA) MRSA. It also addresses the issue of whether this phenomenon is “evolution in action.” Microbiology research based on the creation paradigm appears to provide some answers to these puzzling questions regarding the new variants of Staphylococcus aureus and its emerging dominance in the United States.
Gillen, Alan L. and Walters, Rachel, "Super Staph in the Community: Is It Evolving?" (2015). Faculty Publications and Presentations. 131.