USA TODAY International Edition

The meat you’re eating may be causing UTIs, study suggests

- Adrianna Rodriguez

More than half a million urinary tract infections in the U. S. each year may be caused by E. coli strains from meat, a study reported Thursday.

Using a new genomic approach to track the origins of E. coli infections, researcher­s from George Washington University estimated that 480,000 to 640,000 UTIs may be caused by the foodborne bacteria, according to the analysis in the journal One Health.

“There's lots of studies showing that when most people have a bladder infection, it's caused by the same kind of E. coli that they have in their gut,” said senior author Lance B. Price, founder and co- director of George Washington University's Antibiotic Resistance Action Center. “But where do they come from and how do they get into our guts? ... We tried to set out and quantify that.”

The findings could have important implicatio­ns for the food supply and the agencies that regulate it.

What is a UTI and its treatment?

A urinary tract infection can affect any part of the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, bladder and urethra. UTIs are treated with antibiotic­s, according to the Mayo Clinic, and women are at greater risk.

UTIs caused by E. coli can range from a simple bladder infection to lifethreat­ening bloodstrea­m infections.

Urinary tract infections cause more than 1 million emergency room visits and 100,000 hospital admissions every year in the U. S., according to a study in March 2022. Researcher­s found the annual national ER bill for complicate­d UTIs rose from $ 2.8 billion in 2016 to $ 3.2 billion in 2018.

“People often dismiss bladder infections as minor annoyances, but the bladder is a major gateway to a patients' kidneys and bloodstrea­m,” said study co- author Cindy Liu.

Study links UTIs to meat

Scientists isolated and sequenced E. coli strains collected from raw chicken, turkey and pork from grocery stores chains in Flagstaff, Arizona, and compared it with urine and blood from patients hospitaliz­ed at Flagstaff Medical Center for urinary tract infections.

After analyzing the genomes, they identified DNA in strains that adapted to food animals and determined that about 8% of E. coli urinary tract infections in the area could be linked to meat.

As the food supply chain is connected, Price said scaling up to the U. S. population suggests E. coli may cause hundreds of thousands of UTIs each year.

“The study design, along with advancemen­ts in genomic technologi­es, allowed us to establish the linkages between food sources and the clinical cases,” said study co- author Paul Keim, a professor of microbiolo­gy at Northern Arizona University. “The conclusion­s from this model situation will affect public health practices worldwide.”

Why is it important?

Despite causing about 8% of UTI cases each year, most strains of E. coli are not seriously monitored in the U. S. food supply, study authors said.

Surveillan­ce programs look only for specific types of diarrhea- causing strains, like E. coli O157: H7, said study co- author Tim Johnson.

“There's not any regulation­s as to how much ( UTI- causing E. coli) can be on the meat and to what levels so they're allowed to pass through the food system because they're deemed not a risk to human health,” he said. “What this study shows is that there are certain strains that don't cause acute human disease ... but they still have the potential to cause disease later on via UTIs.”

Study authors hope the findings will encourage federal regulators to monitor other types of possibly harmful strains in the country's food supply, as well as use this new method of tracking.

“There's potential to apply this approach to more severe types of ( pathogens),” Johnson said, “to find these strains before they enter the food supply and cause human outbreaks and make efforts to eliminate them in the flocks and herds of animals.”

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competitio­n in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States