The "Beef" About UTIs

Women are finding it harder than ever to get rid of their urinary tract infections (UTI) via the conventional route: A regimen of sulpha drugs used most commonly to treat them. According to a new study by the University of California, Berkeley, a woman's resistance to drugs may come from an unlikely source: Eating beef from cattle infected with a multi-drug resistant strain of E. coli bacteria.

The study began during a review of campus health records, when scientists found 22 percent of the women treated for UTIs were resistant to sulpha drugs, not unusual according to the lead researcher. What was very surprising: After sequencing small portions of DNA samples, 50 percent of the UTIs treated at Berkeley were caused by the identical strain of E. coli.

To test their theory, scientists compared the E. coli from UTI samples at eight other U.S. clinics, and found the same DNA link they identified at Berkeley. They also discovered a single E. coli strain taken from a cow 17 years ago that was nearly identical to the UTI strain they'd been studying.

To their credit, the article stays away from the most common "cure" for UTIs -- cranberry juice -- in favor of safer, healthier treatments: Practicing better hygiene and drinking plenty of water to flush bacteria from the urethra.

Science News January 22, 2005; Vol. 167, No. 4

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