Food contaminated with a strain of drug-resistant E. coli has emerged as a possible new source of urinary tract infections. E. coli is a normal inhabitant of the digestive tract that can cause both intestinal upsets and urinary infections. But while E. coli from bad food is a frequent cause of diarrhoea and other digestive miseries, urinary tract infections were thought until now to result mostly from inadvertent contact with the victim's own feces. Urinary tract infections are common, especially among women, and cause painful and frequent urination.
The new research found that a single, genetically identical strain was responsible for outbreaks of urinary tract infections among women in California, Michigan and Minnesota. Because the germs are exactly the same, investigators assume they came from the same source, and the most likely such source is food.
The research, conducted at the University of California at Berkeley, was based on analysis of 302 cases. "We were really, really surprised," said researcher Amee R. Manges at Berkeley. "When we looked at these organisms from these various different women, many of them turned out to be the same. We weren't anticipating that."
The researchers looked specifically at infections caused by E. coli strains resistant to a common antibiotic, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, sold as Bactrim or Septra. They found the same strain caused 51 percent of the drug-resistant infections at Berkeley, 38 percent in Michigan and 39 percent in Minnesota.