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Had a UTI? It could be because of meat

Researchers compared samples between meat sold in grocery stores and hospitalized UTI patients and found a connection.
Meat at a grocery store.
Posted at 2:15 PM, Mar 24, 2023

A study released this week indicated that meat consumption may contribute to at least 480,000 urinary tract infections a year. 

The study was conducted by George Washington University, Northern Arizona University, the Wellcome Trust, the National Institutes of Health, and the Cowden Endowment for Food Microbiology.

According to GWU, a team of scientists developed an approach to rack the origins of E. coli infections. GWU said that using this method, they were able to determine that 480,000-600,000 urinary tract infections may have been caused by foodborne E. coli strains. 

Researchers said E. coli causes about 85% of all urinary tract infections. 

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“We’re used to the idea that foodborne E. coli can cause outbreaks of diarrhea, but the concept of foodborne E. coli causing urinary tract infections seems strange—that is, until you recognize that raw meat is often riddled with the E. coli strains that cause these infections,” said Lance B. Price, GWU professor of environmental and occupational health. “Our study provides compelling evidence that dangerous E. coli strains are making their way from food animals to people through the food supply and making people sick—sometimes really sick.”

Researchers said they collected samples from meat sold at grocery stores in Flagstaff, Ariz. They then collected blood and urine samples from patients hospitalized with urinary tract infections. 

Based on their studies, they were able to determine that 8% of UTIs in the Flagstaff region were tied to eating meat. If scaled nationally, at nearly 500,000 UTI infections would be caused by E. coli in meat.

UTIs are more common in women. Infections of the bladder can cause pain or burning while urinating, frequent urination, feeling the need to urinate despite having an empty bladder, bloody urine, and pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

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UTIs of the kidney are less common, but can cause fever, chills, lower back pain or pain in the side of your back and nausea or vomiting, the CDC said.

“People often dismiss bladder infections as minor annoyances, but the bladder is a major gateway to patients’ kidneys and bloodstream,” said Cindy Liu, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at GW. “People over 55 and vulnerable populations such as cancer and transplant patients are at the highest risk for life-threatening blood infections, but young, healthy people are also at risk.”