Undercooked meat may be to blame for one in 14 UTIs, scientists say

Undercooked meat may be to blame for one in 14 UTIs, scientists say

  • Bacteria from meat could be responsible for over 500,000 UTIs in US annually 
  • UTIs may be triggered by E coli found in meat which then live in the gut
  • Researchers spent a year matching UTI-causing E coli with E coli found in meat  

Undercooked meat may be responsible for hundreds of thousands of urinary tract infections (UTIs) every year, scientists have warned. 

Previous studies have shown that E coli causes up to 90 per cent of all UTIs.

But researchers have found that roughly 8 per cent are derived from E Coli strains lurking in raw meat like chicken, turkey and pork. 

This bacteria can live in the gut before ending up in the urinary tract, causing agonizing symptoms like pain in your sides or back and shivering and chills. 

E coli causes approximately 6 to 8 million UTIs in the US annually. 

E coli bacteria can live in the gut before ending up in the urinary tract, causing agonizing symptoms like pain in your sides or back and shivering and chills. E coli causes approximately 6 to 8 million UTIs in the US annually

Researchers at George Washington University, found that roughly 8 per cent of all UTIs in the US are derived from E Coli strains lurking in raw meat like chicken, turkey and pork

In the UK, UTIs are thought to result in 7million GP consultations annually. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), E coli is ‘the most common cause’.

Researchers at George Washington University collected blood and urine samples of E coli infections from local hospitals in a city in Arizona. 

They then matched this against food-borne zoonotic E coli strains found in available brands of raw chicken, turkey, and pork in nine major grocery chains. 

The meats were chosen because they had been identified as most likely to carry the E coli that cause UTIs. 

Writing in the journal One Health, researchers said ‘approximately 8 per cent of the clinical E coli isolates in our population appeared to be foodborne zoonotic strains’. 

Read more: Relief for 1.7million Britons suffering antibiotic resistant urinary tract infections after scientists develop new treatments

The scientists said vaccinating animals against the most dangerous strains of E coli could be one way to prevent the bacteria from entering the food supply. 

‘Accurately identifying strains involved in recent animal-to-human spillovers is critical to developing targeted intervention strategies in food animal populations,’ the researchers added. 

Lance Price, professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, added: ‘On an individual level, I would say anyone already prone to UTIs should take extra care when handling raw meat, particularly poultry.

‘If people handle raw meat products and don’t wash sufficiently – which can be difficult – then the E.coli could be introduced directly into the urogenital tract.’ 

He added: ‘Our study provides compelling evidence that dangerous strains are making their way from food animals to people through the food supply and making people sick — sometimes really sick.’

However, the scientists also acknowledged several limitations of the study including relying on a single location.

‘Therefore the generalizability of the results is unknown’, they said. 

The rate of E coli from meat triggering UTIs was also assessed without including beef, so the number of FZEC cases may have been underreported, limiting the findings.

The experts did also not include ‘isolates from companion animal species’ including cats and dogs, preventing them from evaluating their potential roles in transmitting E coli strains. 

Strains of the bacteria are typically found in the intestines of people and animals and are usually harmless. 

However, if certain strains get into vulnerable parts of the body, such as the urinary tract – a catch-all term for the bladder, kidneys and tubes connected to them – it can lead to debilitating, and often dangerous, infections. 

Antibiotics are the most common treatment, followed by drinking a lot of water to flush bacteria from the body.   

But some UTIs also can lead to more serious kidney infections; symptoms include fever, chills, back pain, nausea or vomiting and life-threatening blood infections.

Every year, more than a million Britons – 80 per cent of them women – develop a UTI and suffer an extreme burning sensation when passing urine. 

Older people are more at risk, as the bladder works less well with age, and may not empty fully so bacteria remains in the urinary tract. 

Studies show that one in ten women older than 65 will have experienced a UTI in the past year.

This rises to nearly three in ten for women over 85. In older patients, the infections can trigger delirium. 

They can also lead to sepsis, which leads to about 10,000 deaths a year. 

Everything you need to know about Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

A urinary tract infection, more commonly known as a UTI, is an infection in any part of the urinary system.

UTIs can have different names depending on which part of the urinary tract is infected.

Cystitis affects the bladder, pyelonephritis affects the kidneys and urethritis affects the ureter and urethra.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • A burning feeling when urinating 
  • A frequent urge to urinate, despite little urine coming out upon doing so
  • Dark, cloudy or strange-smelling urine 
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or back 

Women are much more likely to get a UTI with their risk being as high as 1 in 2 in their lifetime compared to 1 in 10 among men. 

The most common cause of UTIs is a transfer of bacteria from the anus to the urethra. Because women have shorter urethras and less distance between the two body parts, it is easier for bacteria to be introduced. 

Antibiotics are the most common treatment followed by drinking a lot of water to flush bacteria from the body.  

UTIs do not typically lead to death but, when left untreated, they can cause sepsis, a life-threatening condition in which chemicals that the immune system releases into the bloodstream to fight an infection cause inflammation throughout the entire body instead. 

The term for sepsis caused by a UTI is urosepsis. 

Signs of urosepsis include:  

  • fever
  • pain in the lower sides of the back 
  • nausea and vomiting
  • difficulty breathing 
  • inability to think clearly 
  • confusion or delirium 

A 2019 study found that the risk of a bloodstream infection was more than seven times greater in patients who did not receive antibiotics immediately after seeing a physician for a UTI.

The estimated mortality rate from urosepsis is between 30% and 40%.

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