E. coli bacteria are always caught up in food poisoning stories, but a new study suggests they could make you sick in other ways.
Brand new research has revealed that these same microbes may be responsible for causing millions of urinary tract infections (UTIs).
UTIs are a very common illness that affects more than half of women at least once in their lives. The vast majority of them are caused by E. coli.
Symptoms of a UTI include a frequent urge to urinate, burning while urinating, and lower belly pain.
Most strains of E. coli exist naturally in the gut as part of a diverse microbiome. They are completely harmless and even possess benefits. Sometimes when it is shed in stool, however, it can migrate to the urinary tract and cause a UTI.
The prevalence of UTIs in women all comes down to anatomy. The opening to the urethra is situated close to the anus, making it much easier for bacteria to find their way to the urinary tract. Women are 30 times more likely than men to get one.
But now new evidence suggests that at least a portion of UTIs may be caused by food. The research team found genetic evidence that some UTIs are caused by E. coli in chicken, turkey, and pork that people buy from the grocery store. The bacteria find their way into the urinary tract like other UTI-causing E. coli do, but the source is different.
The researchers estimated that about 8 percent of UTIs caused by E. coli could be traced to a food source, accounting for a half million infections per year.
The team analyzed genomes of E. coli from meat and from UTI patients, focusing on segments of bacterial DNA that are unique strains that colonize in animals that people eat but not people. From there, they modelled the likelihood of whether or not the infection came from food.
These findings do not prove that UTIs can come from undercooked meats, but they further reinforce safe cooking methods and adequate food hygiene. Be adamant about cooking meat properly as well as cross-contamination. Wash your hands and cooking surfaces well and often when handling raw meat and packaging.