An E. coli strain found in retail chicken and turkey products may be passed on to humans and cause a range of infections, including in the urinary tract, according to a study.
Although past research had found Escherichia coli can spread from person-to-person, this is the first connection reported between poultry products and people. The findings were published Tuesday in the journal mBio.
“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,” Dr. Price, the director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said in a press release.
More than 80 percent of urinary tract infections are caused by E. coli, but only a few strains are responsible for most of the serious infections, which involve the kidneys or blood.
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E. coli ST131 travels from the bladder to the blood and kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year.
Previous studies had indicated that retail meat was not a source. But researchers believe those studies were too narrowly focused.
Working with GWU’s Translational Genomics Research Institute, the public health researchers conducted a one-year study of retail chicken, turkey and pork purchased from every major grocery chain in Flagstaff, Ariz. The team also collected and analyzed urine and blood isolates taken from patients at Flagstaff Medical Center, the only major hospital in Flagstaff.
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In almost 80 percent of the 2,452 meat samples and 72 percent of the positive urine and blood cultures from patients, researchers found E. coli.
E. coli ST131 most commonly infected people and also was present in the poultry samples.
In studying the genomes of the E. coli cells, they discovered that that almost all of the E. coli ST131 on the poultry products belonged to a particular strain called ST131-H22 and carried genes that helps E. coli thrive in birds. It also was also found to be causing urinary tract infections in people.
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Poultry products are not routinely tested for the kind of E. coli strains that can cause UTIs. The researchers say they are working to determine the percentage of UTIs that might be caused by foodborne E. coli by examing all E. coli strains, not only ST131
“This particular E. coli strain appears capable of thriving in poultry and causing disease in people,” Dr. first author Cindy Liu, chief medical officer at GWU’s ARAC, said. “Poultry products could be an important vehicle for bacteria that can cause diseases other than diarrhea.”