Chicken Meat Linked to Drug-Resistant UTI Epidemic

This article was originally published by Dr. Mercola

In the 2013 report “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States” issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 superbugs were identified as “urgent, serious and concerning threats” to humankind.1  The majority of these dangerous bacteria are in the gram-negative category, as they are equipped with body armor that makes them particularly resistant to the immune response.

Most disturbing of all, an increasing number of bacteria are now exhibiting “panresistance,” 2 which means they’re resistant to every antibiotic in existence. The emergence of E. coli carrying the drug-resistant mcr-1 gene is also major cause for worry. While this bacterium is most commonly thought of in terms of food poisoning, a form of E. coli known as ExPEC (which stands for extra-intestinal pathogenic E. coli) is responsible for over 90 percent of urinary tract infections (UTIs).3

Beware — 10 Percent of UTIs Are Drug Resistant

Interestingly, while conventional wisdom has maintained that UTIs are primarily caused by sexual contact with an infected individual and/or the transferring of fecal bacteria from your anus to your urethra, research has linked drug-resistant UTIs to contaminated chicken meat.4 This is not a surprise once you realize that over 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and it’s rare for commercial chickens to not be raised in a CAFO environment.

Scientists have indeed warned that infectious disease could potentially spread through the food supply, and when it comes to UTIs, DNA matching overwhelmingly supports this hypothesis. In other words, many UTIs are caused by zoonosis, meaning animal to human disease transfer.5,6,7

Of the 8 million UTIs occurring in the U.S. each year, an estimated 10 percent —  some 800,000 — are resistant to antibiotics. Drug resistance has become common enough that doctors are now advised to test for drug resistance before prescribing an antibiotic for a UTI.

Drug Resistant Bacteria Can Turn Urinary Tract Infections Deadly

The mcr-1 gene was discovered in pigs and people in China in 2015.8,9,10 It’s a mutated gene that confers rapid resistance to the drug colistin — an antibiotic of last resort due to its potency and nasty side effects. Its DNA also contains seven other genes that confer resistance against other antibiotics.

Researchers have warned that the features of mcr-1 “suggest the progression from extensive drug resistance to pan drug resistance11[i.e., bacteria resistant to all treatment] is inevitable,” and this threat is a global one.12 Indeed, in less than one year, mcr-1-carrying E.coli was identified in several parts of the world, including a U.S. slaughterhouse pork sample and an American patient admitted with an E. coli infection.13,14,15 Writing for National Geographic, Maryn McKenna reported:16

“The woman who was carrying an E. coli containing resistance to the last-resort antibiotic colistin went for medical care because she had what felt like a routine urinary tract infection, a UTI for short … A small, dedicated corps of researchers has been trying for years to emphasize that these infections represent a serious danger, an unexamined conduit of bacterial resistance from agriculture and meat into the human population, and have mostly been dismissed …

Colistin was seldom used in people until recently because it is toxic, but agriculture has been using it enthusiastically for decades, which has seeded resistance through the bacterial world. And those highly drug-resistant bacteria are turning up in urinary tract infections. Why UTIs?

Because E. coli bacteria are carried in feces, which can easily spread to the urethra and cause urinary tract infections, especially in women … [W]hen UTIs go untreated — which is effectively what happens when the antibiotic administered for them doesn’t work — they climb up the urinary system from the bladder, into the kidneys, and thence into the bloodstream. At that point, the minor problem becomes literally life-threatening.”

DNA Matching Proves UTI Superbug Can Spread Via Contaminated Chicken Meat

As mentioned, a number of mcr-1-related infections in humans have been linked to consumption of contaminated meat. For example, the gene was detected in the blood of a Danish patient in late 2015, and mcr-1 was also found in five poultry samples purchased in Denmark that were imported from Germany between 2012 and 2014.17

Again, part of the problem goes back to the fact that antibiotics — including colistin, in the case of Chinese poultry production — have remained widely used in agriculture for growth promotion purposes, allowing resistance to develop. This despite the fact that agricultural use of antibiotics has been suspected of causing human infections since at least 2001.

As early as 2005 papers were published showing drug-resistant E. coli strains from supermarket meat matched strains found in human E. coli infections.18 As reported by The Atlantic in 2012:19

“[T]he origin of these newly resistant E. coli has been a mystery — except to a small group of researchers in several countries. They contend there is persuasive evidence that the bacteria are coming from poultry. More precisely, coming from poultry raised with the routine use of antibiotics …

Their research20,21,22 in the United States, Canada, and Europe … has found close genetic matches between resistant E. coli collected from human patients and resistant strains found on chicken or turkey sold in supermarkets or collected from birds being slaughtered.

The researchers contend that poultry … is the bridge that allows resistant bacteria to move to humans, taking up residence in the body and sparking infections when conditions are right. Touching raw meat that contains the resistant bacteria, or coming into environmental contact with it — say, by eating lettuce that was cross-contaminated — are easy ways to become infected.”

To Protect Your Health, Avoid Antibiotics — Both in Medicine and Food — and Practice Safe Hygiene

The use of low-dose antibiotics allows meat producers to add weight on animals for less money because they make feed absorption more efficient. The drugs also help prevent disease outbreaks in the crowded and unsanitary housing conditions that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are notorious for.

But just how high a price are we willing to pay for cheaper meat? Tens of thousands of Americans now die each year from drug-resistant infections, many of which clearly appear to be spread through our food supply.

Some chicken producers have started reining in or eliminating medically unnecessary antibiotics in their production, but not all. Sanderson Farms for example, which is the third-largest poultry producer in the U.S., has refused to even acknowledge the risks associated with the practice. They are a reprehensible company; they market themselves as “all natural” even though they load up their chickens with antibiotics.

And, while experts have urged the food industry to cease use of antibiotics, data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests agricultural use is actually increasing rather than decreasing. According to the FDA’s 2014 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals,26 domestic sales and distribution of cephalosporins for food-producing animals rose by 57 percent between 2009 through 2014. So, what can you do to protect yourself? Three key steps are to:

  • Avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, and remember antibiotics do NOT work for viral infections
  • Avoid all meats raised with antibiotics. Your best bet is organic grass fed and grass-finished beef and organic pastured poultry raised without antibiotics. This is a serious issue, so if you chose to eat meat, make sure it’s antibiotic-free
  • Practice good personal hygiene. This includes carefully washing your hands before and after you handle raw chicken, making sure to wash between your fingers and under your nails and be sure to wash any utensils and kitchen counters when done. Ideally, use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination