May 24, 2024

E. coli in Chickens May be Cause of Human UTIs

Doctors have long believed that urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by the bacteria that live in a person’s intestines. The bacteria end up in the wrong place and an infection occurs.

Raw Chicken on PaperBut a new Canadian study is shedding new light on the subject. Scientists in a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases have found that as many as 85% of all UTIs are caused by what are called “extraintestinal” (outside the intestine) pathogenic E. coli. 

But that’s not the shocking part. The extraintestinal bacteria is coming from chickens.

In their research, scientists got a match between the genetic fingerprints of E. coli from UTIs and E. coli in chickens using pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and multilocus sequence typing (MLST). (They also tested beef and pork.) The study states that the infections came directly from the chickens, not from contamination during slaughter or processing. In other words, the chickens are acting as “reservoirs” for E. coli.

UTIs used to be fairly straightforward and easy to treat. Still, these infections are expensive: estimated health care costs for urinary tract infections range from $1 to $2 billion a year. And complications do occur, which can lead to more serious illnesses such as sepsis or bacteremia.

But in the last ten years, drug-resistant E. coli has made management of this illness much more complicated. Amee Manges, the study author, said, “We are … concerned about the selection and amplification of drug-resistant E. coli on the farms because of improper or overuse of antimicrobials during food animal production.”

Food Poisoning Bulletin has reported before on scientists’ concerns about adding antibiotics to animal feed as a matter of course. Routine use of antibiotics in food animals to increase their weight or to compensate for overcrowded or unsanitary conditions is contributing to the increase in drug-resistant bacteria, as proved in a recent study. And doctors are worried that this trend is going to continue.

There are several steps you can take in your own kitchen to help reduce the risk of bacterial infection, whether the bugs end up in your gut or somewhere else:

  • Do not wash chickens before you cook them.  Chickens are cleaned in the processing plant. Yes, bacteria are still on those chickens. But washing them just spreads the bacteria around your kitchen. In fact, food poisoning has occurred when lettuce was prepared in a sink used to wash chicken.
  • Always wash your hands before and especially after handling raw meats. The correct way to wash your hands is to lather them with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20 seconds. Make sure you clean under your fingernails too.
  • After preparing raw meats, disinfect the sink, faucet, countertop, and all pots, pans, and utensils.
  • Cook chicken thoroughly. Breast meat should be cooked to 165 degrees F; dark meat and whole chickens to 170 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to test doneness. Observation is not a reliable indicator of doneness.
  • Doctors say that the best way to avoid infections is to stay healthy. But when you do get sick, see your doctor and take any antibiotics she prescribes exactly according to directions.



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