Studies initially conducted during the Apollo Program and Apollo-Soyuz Test Project using bacteriophage typing patterns reported that the transfer of Staphyloccus aureus among crewmembers was a common occurrence. A phage typing experiment was also conducted during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project to study microbial exchange among the U.S. and Russian crewmembers. Further phage typing studies were conducted during the Skylab program, which also included data regarding dissemination of the organism through the spacecraft environment. Data from the Skylab 3 mission suggested two incidences of intercrew transfer.
Staphyloccus aureus was chosen as the target bacterium to study the spread of microbes in the spacecraft because it is frequently isolated from crewmembers and from the Space Shuttle environment. This 2-year study included 10 Space Shuttle missions ranging from 5 to 16 days in duration, with 5-7 crewmembers per mission. A total of 57 astronauts (45 male and 12 female) participated in the study, and 33 (58%) were culture-positive during one or more sampling periods for Staphyloccus aureus.
The 139 isolates collected during the study included 96 Staphyloccus aureus strains isolated from culture-positive subjects, and 43 strains isolated from surfaces inside the Shuttle crewmember compartment. In 37% of the subjects, Staphyloccus aureus was isolated at all three sample collection periods while 21% of the subjects were intermittent carriers, from which the bacteria was isolated during one or two of the three sampling periods. Staphyloccus aureus was not isolated during the pre- or postflight sample collections from 42% of the subjects. Of those harboring the target bacteria, the most common site for isolation was the nose. Isolates were also obtained from throat and urine specimens, however, these comprised only about 25% of the Staphyloccus aureus isolates.
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