Store-bought chicken could be causing urinary tract infections

A particular strand of E. coli that survives in birds could be a cause of UTIs in humans.

Store-bought chicken
Image: Pixabay

Many people think that buying chicken is just “buying chicken” and something that should not be really thought about. However, it is a very serious matter. A new study suggests that eating undercooked chicken could lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) stemming from E. coli.

Both E. coli and UTIs are painful in their own ways. UTIs lead to painful urination, muscle aches, and deep pangs. E. coli often leads to the standard symptoms of a stomach bug, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

There are various causes for UTIs. In any scenarios, women are at greater risk. Scientists suggest that undercooked, contaminated food could spread both kinds of disease.

Lead author Lance Price, a professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health said, “This is the first study where we can say: ‘People are definitely picking up those infections from poultry. We have to open up our heads and acknowledge that foodborne infections aren’t just diarrhea and/or vomiting; they can be UTIs, too.”

Scientists conducted an experiment where they tested samples of chicken, pork, and turkey bought from every large retail store in Flagstaff, Arizona, sequencing the DNA of E. coli strains they found. They also collected blood and urine samples from patients who visited Flagstaff’s only major medical center, again mapping out the E. coli strains found in people diagnosed with an UTI.

Scientists found that almost 80% of chicken carried E. coli. When testing both humans and chickens, scientists found one particular E.Coli causing strain, ST131.

Price said, “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.”

Cindy Liu, MD, MPH, PhD, first author of the paper and chief medical officer at ARAC said, “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.”

Scientists published this study in the journal mBio.