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  • New research shows how preparing ground meat may result in E. coli infections.
  • Foodborne zoonotic E. coli strains were linked with urinary tract infections, and researchers estimated it causes between 480,000 and 640,000 urinary tract infections in the United States each year.
  • To avoid infection, wash your food and hands thoroughly, stay hydrated, take showers instead of baths and urinate after intercourse.

While E. coli is known for causing issues in the digestive system, it can also lead to urinary problems. In fact, E. coli causes between 6 and 8 million UTIs in the United States each year.

According to a recent study published in the medical journal One Health, E. coli from meat products may be a major cause of urinary tract infections in the U.S.

Researchers created a new genomic technique that revealed foodborne E. coli strains may be causing hundreds of thousands of UTIs in the US each year.

For the study, the researchers examined store-bought raw chicken, turkey and pork in Flagstaff, Arizona to look for E. coli. They also took urine and blood E. coli isolates from patients with UTI infections at Northern Arizona Healthcare’s Flagstaff Medical Center. This allowed researchers to differentiate E. coli strains from food animals and humans.

Results showed 8% of E. coli urinary tract infections in the Flagstaff area could have been caused by meat. Using their predictive model, researchers estimated that between 480,000 and 640,000 urinary tract infections in the United States each year may be the result of foodborne E. coli strains.

E. coli can be found in meat products and some vegetables.

“If the food is eaten uncooked (e.g. salads, some vegetables or not cooked all the way through—rare hamburger), the E. coli will be ingested, make their way through the stomach and small intestine and find their way into the colon where they will set up residence, becoming part of our microflora,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Then, when a predisposition to a urinary tract infection occurs, the now nearby E. coli will get into the bladder and cause the infection.”

Additionally, E.coli is the most common bacteria in the gut which also makes it the most common cause for infection linked to UTIs.

“Most UTIs arise from organisms colonizing the GI tract and E. coli is the most prevalent aerobic organism in the gut flora, so, therefore, it is the most common pathogen [an organism causing an infection] associated with UTIs. [Anaerobic flora (organisms preferring oxygen-poor environments) is present in much higher numbers than aerobic flora (organisms preferring oxygen-rich environments)],” Dr. Charles Bailey, medical director for infection prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline.

Proper food preparation and washing your hands and food thoroughly is important.

“The best ways to prevent this are frequent handwashing, making sure to wash food cutting boards thoroughly after use and washing all fruits and vegetables,” Shaffner stated. “In addition, ground meats (where the E. coli on the surface of the meat is ground up throughout the patty) are recommended to be cooked well done.”

While you can’t avoid E. coli entirely (as an element of the aerobic flora colonizing our GI tracts), women and girls are more likely than their male counterparts to have UTIs, Bailey explained.

“This is due to anatomy (shorter urethra which equates to a shorter distance from perineal tissues colonized with GI/stool flora and the bladder) as are individuals with impaired bladder emptying (as males with prostate enlargement),” said Bailey.

Although we cannot change our anatomy, there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of UTIs in general.

Bailey recommended the following:

  • urinate after sexual activity
  • stay well-hydrated
  • take showers instead of baths
  • minimize douching, sprays or powder application to the genital area
  • teach appropriate wiping technique to young girls during potty training (front to back)

Increasing your water consumption can help reduce the accumulation of bacteria.

“The ways to avoid E. coli-related UTIs would be to push more water intake to flush the bacteria out,” said Dr. Apurva Pancholy, a urogynecologist with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “There are also certain dietary supplements and compounds which help prevent E. coli from anchoring itself to the bladder wall like d-mannose and methenamine.”

Cranberries also have a compound called proanthocyanidins ( PAC) which have been shown to help prevent E. coli from anchoring to the bladder wall. Vaginal estrogen cream can also be used to help regenerate the healthy microbiome in conjunction with probiotics, Pancholy added.

According to a new study, meat may cause E.coli infections. Specifically, foodborne zoonotic E.Coli strains were associated with urinary tract infections, affecting as many as 480,000 to 640,000 people in the United States each year.

To minimize your risk of infection there are several things you can do. Most importantly, be sure to prepare your food properly by washing your meat, fruits and vegetables. Also, wash your hands.

In addition, hydrate often, urinate after sex and take showers instead of baths.