A recent study in the medical journal One Health suggests that E. coli found in meat products could significantly contribute to urinary tract infections in the United States.
E. coli, typically associated with digestive issues, is responsible for causing 6 to 8 million cases of urinary tract infections (UTIs) annually in the United States.
A new genomic technique developed by researchers has uncovered that foodborne strains of E. coli could be responsible for hundreds of thousands of urinary tract infections in the US annually.
In the study, researchers in Flagstaff, Arizona, analyzed raw chicken, turkey, and pork from grocery stores for E. coli, while also collecting E. coli isolates from urine and blood samples of UTI patients at a local medical center. This enabled the differentiation of E. coli strains from animals and humans.
The study found that meat-associated E. coli strains may have caused 8% of UTIs in Flagstaff. Based on the predictive model, the researchers estimated that foodborne E. coli strains could be responsible for between 480,000 to 640,000 UTIs annually in the US.
What is a UTI?
A UTI is a bacterial infection that can occur in any part of the urinary system. Typically, the infection begins in the urethra and can move up to the bladder and kidneys.
Bacteria that typically inhabit the bowels can enter the urethra, leading to a urinary tract infection.
The bacteria then multiply and establish a presence in the urinary tract instead of being flushed out by urine or fought off by the immune system.
- A strong, constant urge to pee
- A burning sensation when you pee
- Peeing often, in small amounts
- Cloudy pee
- Pee that appears red, bright pink, or brown
- Strong-smelling pee
- Pelvic pain, especially in the center of the pelvis and around the pubic bone
Early detection and treatment by medical professionals are crucial. If left untreated, it can spread to the bloodstream, leading to sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
The connection between E. coli and UTIs
- E. coli can be found in meat products and some vegetables.
“If the food is eaten uncooked (e.g., salads, some vegetables or not cooked all the way through—rare hamburger), the E. coli will be ingested, make their way through the stomach and small intestine, and find their way into the colon where they will set up residence, becoming part of our microflora,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“Then, when a predisposition to a urinary tract infection occurs, the now nearby E. coli will get into the bladder and cause the infection.”
E.coli is the most common gut bacteria, making it the most common cause of infection linked to UTIs.
“Most UTIs arise from organisms colonizing the GI tract, and E. coli is the most prevalent aerobic organism in the gut flora, so, therefore, it is the most common pathogen [an organism causing an infection] associated with UTIs. [Anaerobic flora (organisms preferring oxygen-poor environments) is present in much higher numbers than aerobic flora (organisms preferring oxygen-rich environments)],” Dr. Charles Bailey, medical director for infection prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline.
Here’s How to Avoid an Infection
Frequent handwashing, thorough cleaning of food cutting boards, and washing all fruits and vegetables are effective preventive measures. Furthermore, cooking ground meats well done is recommended, as the E. coli on the surface of the meat can be ground up throughout the patty.
While you can’t avoid E. coli entirely (as an element of the aerobic flora colonizing our GI tracts), women and girls are more likely than their male counterparts to have UTIs.
“This is due to anatomy (shorter urethra, which equates to a shorter distance from perineal tissues colonized with GI/stool flora and the bladder) as are individuals with impaired bladder emptying (as males with prostate enlargement),” said Dr. Bailey.
Other recommendations are:
- urinate after sexual activity
- stay well-hydrated
- take showers instead of baths
- minimize douching, sprays, or powder application to the genital area
- teach appropriate wiping techniques to young girls during potty training (front to back)
Increasing your water consumption can help reduce the accumulation of bacteria.