Prevalence and characterization of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus isolates from healthy university student athletes

Ann Clin Microbiol Antimicrob. 2014 Aug 2:13:33. doi: 10.1186/s12941-014-0033-5.


Background: The prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been increasing in the general population, and there is concern that close or physical contact, such as in professional and collegiate sports, may increase spread of MRSA. We sought to determine the prevalence of MRSA colonization of male and female athletes from 9 different sports at a major, Division I University during a 12-week period, and determine the USA and SCCmec type from select isolates.

Methods: Swabs for culture of MRSA were obtained from nasal, axillary, and inguinal sites from healthy, asymptomatic student athletes and support staff each week for 12 weeks. Select MRSA isolates were typed by pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), and the genes encoding for MecA, cassette chromosome recombinase (Ccr), and several toxins were determined by multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Discrepant results were clarified by multi-locus sequence typing (MLST) and spa typing.

Results: Thirty-five percent (78/223) of test subjects were positive for MRSA during the study period, resulting in isolation of 139 MRSA isolates. However, 47% (37/78) of MRSA-positive participants carried MRSA in axillary or inguinal sites, but not in the anterior nares. There was significant correlation between MRSA carriage and participation in wrestling (76%, 19/25; adjusted odds ratio 29.7, 95% CI 5.8-151.5) and baseball (44%, 17/39; adjusted odds ratio 4.4, 95% CI 1.1- 17.4), compared with a staff prevalence of 18.1% (4/22), but other factors were not examined. Multiplex PCR analysis indicated that of the 32 isolates examined 26 could be typed, and all of these carried the SCCmec type IV cassette. PFGE typing identified USA types 300, 400, 500, 700, and 800. However, one isolate was not a known USA type, but was identified as a novel ST951 by MLST, and as spa type t216. Of the strains typed from the same individual, there was consistency, but also variation and alternation of the SCCmec and spa types isolated from individual subjects. Various staphylococcal toxin genes were identified in 31 of the 32 isolates analyzed.

Conclusions: Colonization by MRSA was greater in some student athletes than the average carriage rate for the general population, and only 53% of MRSA carriers were identified by nasal cultures. Carriage of MRSA clones on the same individual and transmission to contacts could vary over time, indicating colonization can be a dynamic process that may be difficult to control.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletes
  • Carrier State / epidemiology*
  • Carrier State / microbiology*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Electrophoresis, Gel, Pulsed-Field
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / classification*
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / genetics*
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Molecular Typing
  • Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Nasal Cavity / microbiology
  • Prevalence
  • Skin / microbiology
  • Staphylococcal Infections / epidemiology*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Students
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Universities
  • Young Adult


  • DNA, Bacterial