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How Avoiding Chicken Could Prevent Bladder Infections

By Dr. Michael Greger
8/26/2013 9:54:56 AM

Where do bladder infections come from? Back in the '70s, longitudinal studies of women over time showed that the movement of rectal bacteria into the vaginal area preceded the appearance of the same types of bacteria in the urethra before they were able to infect the bladder. However, it would be another 25 years before genetic fingerprinting techniques were able to confirm this so-called fecal-perineal-urethral theory, indicating that E. coli strains residing in the rectal flora serve as a reservoir for urinary tract infections.

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And it would be another 15 years still before we tracked it back another step and figured out where that rectal reservoir of bladder infecting E. coli was coming from-chicken. Researchers were able to capture these extraintestinal (meaning outside of the gut), pathogenic, disease-causing E. coli straight from the slaughterhouse, to the meat, to the urine specimens obtained from infected women. We now have "proof of a direct link between farm animals, meat, and bladder infections," solid evidence that urinary tract infections can be a zoonosis (an animal-to-human disease). We're talking millions of women infected a year, costing over a billion dollars.

Even worse, researchers have detected multidrug resistant strains of E. coli in chicken meat resistant to some of our most powerful antibiotics.

The best way to prevent bladder infections is the same way you can prevent all types of infections, by not getting infected in the first place. It's not in all meat equally-beef and pork appear significantly less likely to harbor bladder-infecting strains than chicken.

Can't you just use a meat thermometer and cook the chicken thoroughly? We've known for 36 years that it's not always the meat, but the cross-contamination, that causes the infection. If you give people frozen chickens naturally contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli, let people prepare and cook it in their own kitchen as they normally would, the bacteria ends up in their rectum even if they don't actually consume the meat. That's how they know it was cross-contamination, because the jump happened after the animal was prepared but before it was eaten. In one study five different strains of antibiotic resistant E. coli jumped from the chicken to the volunteer.

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