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Urinary Tract Infections in Women Linked with Factory Farmed Chicken

Words by Akhila Vijayaraghavan
Energy & Environment

It is no surprise that antibiotic resistance is on the rise. However there have been very few instances that define a link between a particular bacterial strain and where it arises. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN), however there is a definite link between drug resistant bacteria from poultry and urinary tract infections - more commonly known as bladder infections - in women. According to the joint investigation by FERN and ABC News, bladder infections affect 60 percent of American women.

ABC's Good Morning America aired an investigation highlighting the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture and how this has led to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Increasing numbers of bladder infections are caused by these antibiotic-resistant strains, making bladder infections more difficult to treat. The cost of treating the bladder infections in America is estimated to be around $1 billion annually. Now researchers in this investigation are doing further studies on the preliminary evidence that the resistant strains are coming from poultry treated with antibiotics.

According to ABC's Senior National Correspondent, “A growing number of medical researchers say more than 8 million women are at risk of difficult-to-treat bladder infections because superbugs – resistant to antibiotics and growing in chickens – are being transmitted to humans in the form of E. coli."

Researchers from McGill University found the E. coli strain that is responsible for bladder infection closely matches the bacteria found in retail chicken. According to the Dr. Manges, associate professor of epidemiology: “The E. coli that you recover from poultry meat tends to have the highest levels of resistance. Of all retail meats, it’s the most problematic that way.”

Many health organizations like the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization have issued warnings against the overuse of antibiotics. In spite of this, the FDA has been slow to take action.  The news about factory farmed chicken that has been coming out in the recent months is enough to put people off of it. The chicken industry continues to insist that there is no conclusive link between a person's infection and the chicken they ate. However, this is not something that can be proved without infecting someone with the strain of bacteria, which is unethical.

It is about time that meat producers begin to accept the downsides of antibiotic resistance and take steps to correct the problem.

Image Credit: Thegreenj, Wikimedia Commons