A study led by researchers at George Washington University has found that a strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) found in chicken and turkey products can cause serious bladder infections in people.
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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are often regarded as a common and minor problem, but UTIs involving the kidneys or blood can be life-threatening.
The majority of UTIs are caused by E. coli, but only a few E. coli strains cause the more serious infections.
Researchers already knew that people can pass E. coli to one another, but the current study has found that a number of E. coli strains occur in fresh poultry products and that one strain in particular can be passed to people, causing UTIs.
As reported in the journal mBio, Dr. Lance Price and colleagues tested chicken, turkey and pork products found in all main groceries in Flagsta, Ariz and also analyzed urine and blood samples taken from Flagsta Medical Center.
In the past, we could say that E. coli from people and poultry were related to one another, but with this study, we can more confidently say that the E. coli went from poultry to people and not vice versa."
Dr. Lance Price, Senior Author
The researchers found E. coli was present in almost 80% of 2,452 meat samples and in 72% of the samples taken from patients.
The strain that most commonly infected people was E. coli ST131.
After studying the genomes of the E. coli cells, Price and colleagues found that the ST131 present in poultry products was of a particular strain called ST131-H22 and contains genes that help the bacteria to thrive in birds.
That same strain was also found to be the one that led people to develop UTIs.
This particular E. coli strain appears capable of thriving in poultry and causing disease in people. Poultry products could be an important vehicle for bacteria that can cause diseases other than diarrhea."
Professor Cindy Liu, First Author
The study shows how important it is to ensure poultry is carefully handled and thoroughly cooked in the kitchen, adds Price.
Price and team are now trying to determine how many UTIs are caused by foodborne E. coli and are analysing not only ST131, but all strains of E. coli: "This is not an easy question to answer but an extremely important one," he says.