Talima Pearson, PhD
Assistant Research Professor
Department of Biological Sciences/Pathogen and Microbiome Institute
Focusing on Infections
Diseases once confined largely to hospitals—such as staph infections— are now increasingly being transmitted through everyday contact among healthy people.
That’s why researcher and double NAU alumnus Talima Pearson (MA Biology, ’02; PhD Biology, ’09) is leading a five-year study among different populations in Yuma, Arizona. His goal? To better understand how staph infections are spread outside health care settings—and to see what steps can be taken to keep the disease under control.
Limited treatment options
For years staph infections (specifically, those caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus) were on the rise in hospitals and other health care facilities. But improvements in infection control techniques—such as changing sheets more frequently and wiping down contaminated surfaces—have kept those numbers in check.
Now, however, there is an increase in cases of relatively healthy people in the community passing staph bacteria to one another, causing repeat infections. And that makes treatment extremely difficult.
“We can’t go around to everyone’s house and change all of their sheets and clean all of their surfaces,” Pearson said. “That’s not a very efficient way to treat the problem.”
A targeted approach
So Pearson and his team will interview hundreds of small groups to see what role social relationships play in transmitting staph bacteria. Some of the questions he hopes to answer: Are people more likely to get infected from family members? If so, which ones? What about close friends and co-workers? Or even complete strangers?
Because people can carry staph and spread it to others without ever getting sick themselves, NAU researchers also will be taking swabs from study participants. Pearson will use those DNA samples to try to grow staph in a petri dish, and he’ll sequence the genomes of any positive results. By comparing the staph genomes collected from different individuals within a social group, Pearson will know whether or not transmission has occurred, he said.
“We’ll learn a lot about the way the disease is cycling in Yuma,” Pearson said, “and perhaps in the future, if we have a small subset of friends and relatives that we think are highly likely to result in transmission, we can target those people for treatment. That’s a much better approach than what we’re doing now.”
Source: Pine Magazine, Spring 2018
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute On Minority Health And Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54MD012388. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.