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Chicken Out of UTIs

Half of retail poultry samples were found contaminated with strains of E. coli linked to human urinary tract infections.

October 14, 2010 |
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When people think E. coli, they think E. coli 0157: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 extra-intestinal E coli infections every year—urinary tract infections with the potential to invade the bloodstream and cause fatal sepsis, or blood poisoning. The strains of E. coli that cause extraintestinal infection are an increasingly important endemic problem and underappreciated “killers”. Billions of health care dollars, millions of work days, and hundreds of thousands of lives are lost each year to extraintestinal 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 one thousand six hundred and forty eight 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.
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 in factory farms. In egg-laying hens confined in 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 percent decrease in the risk of a disease outbreak. That’s about equivalent to just a 4-inch cube of space. If each of these birds just got that 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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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on chicken. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my blog posts: E. coliO145 Ban Opposed by Meat IndustryTalking Turkey: 9 out of 10 retail turkey samples contaminated with fecal bacteriaWhy is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat?Bugs & Drugs in Pork: Yersinia and Ractopamine, and Plant-Based Diets for Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on chicken. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • Aguccione

      Dr. Greger,
      Since farm raised chickens are administered copious amounts of antibiotics as a rule, why does this infection persist? Are these super bugs resistant?

      Also, couldn’t a man also get infected and subsequently pass it on sexually to the woman?

      • DrDons

         Resistant bacterial is part of the problem. The food industry isn’t interested in eradicating bacterial infections from the animals but only controlling the infections to maximize growth and their profit. In my experience bacterial infections in the bladder are not generally transmitted as are the sexually transmitted bacterial diseases. So if a women has a UTI(Urinary Tract Infection) she probably won’t give it to a man and vice versa. As Dr. Greger points out there are some hygiene steps to take to prevent UTI’s in women. I would add to his suggestions one other one that was shown in one study to make a significant difference. The days after intercourse women should not delay urinating when they get the urge to go. Women are more susceptible to UTI’s due to the fact that their urethra (the tube between the bladder and the outside world) is shorter and given it’s location it is not uncommon to have bacteria introduced to the bladder during intercourse. The trick is to make sure to minimize the extent that this happens and then not to let the bacteria set up housekeeping by drinking fluids and urinating when you have the urge. Men are less likely to get UTI’s due to length of urethra. The usual path to a bladder infection is  via the urethra but can get to the bladder by other routes. So we can now add avoiding chicken to the list of things patients can do to avoid UTI’s.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/kerem/ kerem

    Interesting video as usual..
    The same group published another study last month, I think you’ll find it interesting too..
    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/18/3/11-1099_article.htm
    But I couldn’t find any study that actually measure the relative risk of poultry intake and UTI incidence.:-(

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my blog post E. coliO145 Ban Opposed by Meat Industry!

  • Sylvie Caron

    Hi! Dr. Greger, thanks for these great videos!
    Do you think a UTI on a 5 years old boy would have the same cause?

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      It would not be likely but possible. When young boys get infections you should work with your child’s physician to identify the type of infection and determine whether further work up is necessary.