New research suggests a connection between foodborne E. coli bacteria and urinary tract infections. This report details the findings of Professor Amee R. Manges, McGill University, on the link. The study was recently published in the January issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
E. coli is the generic term for a family of bacteria that includes a number of strains, most prominently E. coli O157:H7, that are known to cause severe food poisoning, as well as the risk of serious complications, in humans. Dr. Manges research is now also suggesting a link to urinary tract infections:
Researchers have found the same strains of the bacteria in chicken from stores and restaurants and in women with the infections. In their study, Manges and her research colleagues wanted to find out if the same strains of E. coli were present in both meat and in women with urinary tract infections. They studied 353 samples from Canadian women, ages 18 to 45, who had suspected urinary tract infections. They also examined samples of chicken and honeydew melon from stores and restaurants in Canada. The researchers found that several strains of E. coli found in the women and in the food were indistinguishable or closely related.
It does not appear that the bacteria was transmitted directly from the food into the urinary tract. Rather, "It’s possible for bacteria to travel from the anus to the vagina and urethra, and that’s where it ultimately causes the infection," Manges reports.
Urinary tract infections of this sort are a particular risk in older people:
Urinary tract infections caused by transmission from feces "are most common in older and debilitated individuals in whom the risk of fecal contamination of the urethral orifice is a significant risk, especially in a setting of fecal incontinence," added Dr. Pascal James Imperato, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This report is more evidence that the breadth of the risk associated with contaminated foods is generally under-reported and under-rated. Certainly more research is warranted. Still, if any significant portion of urinary tract infections in the US are food related, the impacts of food poisoning have not been fully tabulated.