E. coli, a bacteria notorious for causing food poisoning, may also be responsible for nearly half a million urinary tract infections (UTIs) each year, according to a recent study. Although UTIs are highly prevalent, with over half of all women experiencing at least one in their lifetime, most E. coli strains are harmless and naturally reside in the human gut as part of the body’s “microbiome.”
However, when gut-dwelling E. coli is excreted in stool and migrates to the urinary tract, UTIs can occur. Researchers led by Lance Price, a microbiologist and professor at George Washington University, discovered genetic evidence linking some UTIs to E. coli found in chicken, turkey, and pork sold in grocery stores. The team estimates that approximately 8% of UTIs caused by E. coli are traceable to food sources, which would amount to around 500,000 infections annually in the United States.
UTIs are particularly common in women due to anatomical factors, with symptoms ranging from frequent urination urges to lower abdominal pain. In rare cases, UTIs can lead to life-threatening infections if they spread to the kidneys or blood. Preventing even a small percentage of these infections could have significant benefits, Price noted.
The study, published in the journal One Health, built on previous research linking foodborne E. coli to UTIs by using a more comprehensive approach. Over one year, the researchers purchased samples of raw chicken, turkey, and pork from major grocery chains in Flagstaff, Arizona, while also collecting E. coli samples from patients at the city’s primary medical center. By analyzing the genomes of E. coli from meat and patients, the team identified segments of bacterial DNA unique to strains found in animals consumed by humans. A mathematical model was then used to predict the likelihood that E. coli came from a person or food source, with 8% of patients estimated to have E. coli infections from meat.
Price recommends thorough handwashing after handling raw meat or packaging and maintaining clean food preparation surfaces.
For reducing the risk of recurrent UTIs, women are advised to practice good bathroom hygiene, drink plenty of water, and adopt healthy habits, such as a nutritious diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise, to support stronger immune function. On a broader scale, Price hopes the research will inform the food industry, potentially limiting the presence of specific E. coli strains contributing to UTIs in the food supply.
Key Takeaways in a Nutshell – Health Newstrack
– E. coli, a bacteria commonly known for causing food poisoning, may also be responsible for nearly half a million urinary tract infections (UTIs) annually in the United States.
– Researchers discovered genetic evidence linking some UTIs to E. coli found in chicken, turkey, and pork sold in grocery stores, with an estimated 8% of UTIs caused by E. coli traceable to food sources.
– UTIs are particularly common in women due to anatomical factors and can cause symptoms such as frequent urination urges and lower abdominal pain.
– Practicing safe cooking and good bathroom hygiene can help protect against foodborne E. coli infections.
– Maintaining healthy habits, such as a nutritious diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise, can support stronger immune function and reduce the risk of recurrent UTIs.