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Staphylococcus and MRSA Prevalence in Physical Therapist Education Programs

Are Students at Risk?

Gibbs, Karen A., PT, PhD, DPT, CWS; Rohde, Rodney E., PhD, MS, SV, SM(ASCP) MB, MB(ASCP)(CM); Sanders, Barbara, PT, PhD, SCS, FAPTA; Acosta, Martha, PT, PhD, MS, GCS; Wild, Dana L., PT, PhD, PCS

Journal of Physical Therapy Education: March 2018 - Volume 32 - Issue 1 - p 65–69
doi: 10.1097/JTE.0000000000000023
Research Report

Introduction. Staphylococcus skin infections including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are a major health concern in clinical and nonclinical settings where skin-to-skin and skin-to-surface contacts are frequent. This type of contact is inherent in entry-level physical therapy education laboratory classrooms, putting students at risk for exposure to harmful bacteria. With only one previous study examining the prevalence of Staphylococcus at a single program, the purpose of this study was to expand the study across multiple academic centers to further explore the presence of Staphylococcus and exposure risk in our laboratory classrooms.

Methods. Four entry-level physical therapist education programs participated in the study. Swab samples were collected from plinths located in laboratory classrooms at each of the four academic sites and processed according to the previously documented protocol at each of the four academic sites.

Results. Of the 333 total samples, 47 (14.1%) tested positive for S. aureus, 2 samples were positive for MRSA (0.06%). Although all four programs reported their laboratory classrooms were “multiuse,” the classrooms with the highest utilization had the highest prevalence of S. aureus.

Discussion and Conclusion. Close quarters and frequent skin-to-skin and skin-to-surface contacts in physical therapist education increases student exposure risk to harmful bacteria. This risk increases in multiuse or high utilization laboratory classrooms. Education programs must develop and implement strong laboratory classroom disinfection protocols to protect students, faculty, and staff as well as the patients, family, and community members they may encounter. This simple environmental scan further highlights the need for additional multifacility screening regarding the prevalence of harmful bacteria in laboratory classrooms and close examination of cleaning protocols.

Karen A. Gibbs is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Texas State University, 601 University Drive, San Marcos, TX 78666 ( Please address all correspondence to Karen A. Gibbs.

Rodney E. Rohde is chair and professor in the Clinical Laboratory Science Program, Texas State University.

Barbara Sanders is chair and professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, Texas State University.

Martha Acosta is an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Dana L. Wild is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, University of Texas Medical Branch.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (

Received December 26, 2017

Accepted January 11, 2018

Copyright 2018 Education Section, APTA
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