Transcript: Chicken Out of UTIs
When people think E. coli, they think E. coli O157:H7, or other diarrheagenic E. coli strains in retail meats, particularly ground beef.
But have you ever heard of this E coli? You may not have heard of it, but if you’re a woman, odds are, you’ve felt it, or you will. This is within the class of E. coli that cause urinary tract infections.
Intestinal E. coli, like O157:H7, are bad, but fewer than 100,000 Americans are infected every year, and fewer than 100 die. But millions of women get urinary tract infections—extra-intestinal E. coli infections every year—with the potential to invade the bloodstream and cause fatal sepsis, or blood poisoning.
The strains of E. coli that cause extra-intestinal infection are an increasingly important endemic problem, and under-appreciated killers. Billions of health care dollars, millions of work days, and hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year to extra-intestinal infections, due to E. coli.
We know where E. coli O157:H7 comes from—manure in the meat. But where do these other E. coli come from? They come from food, too. But which food? Researchers went to supermarkets, and tested 1,648 different types of food—and, they found it. We now think that urinary tract infections come from eating chickens. Half of retail poultry samples were found contaminated with the UTI-associated strains of E. coli.
Scientists now suspect that by eating chicken, women infect their lower intestinal tract with these meat-borne bacteria, which can then creep up into their bladder. In addition to the traditional hygiene measures aimed at preventing urinary tract infections—wiping from front to back; urinating after intercourse—women can now add avoiding poultry as a way to help fend off UTIs.
Now in chickens, the disease is called colibacillosis, one of the most significant and widespread infectious diseases in the poultry industry. Why? In part, because of the way we treat these animals. Studies have shown infection risk to be directly linked to overcrowding on these so-called factory farms. In egg-laying hens confined in cages, these so-called battery cages, the most significant risk factor for flock infection is hen density per cage.
Researchers have calculated that affording just a single liter of additional living space to each hen would be associated with a 33% decrease in the risk of a disease outbreak now linked to human urinary tract infections. That’s about equivalent to just a four-inch cube of space. If each of these birds just got a tiny bit more space, the risk drops by a third. Imagine if the birds could actually walk around, spread their wings, get some fresh air? How we treat animals can have significant public health implications.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.
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