A study says more than 8 million women are at risk of developing difficult to treat, painful, long-lasting bladder infections because they handle and eat chicken carrying E. coli resistant to antibiotic treatment.
The study claims a link between the E. coli that causes human urinary tract infections and E. coli found on chicken products. Epidemiologists at McGill University in Montreal, say roughly eight million women developing bladder infections in the United States every year may be getting antibiotic resistant infection from the chicken they buy at the grocery store.
According to a report ABC News aired on ’ “Good Morning America,” Amee Manges, epidemiologist at McGill University, said: “We’re finding the same or related E. coli in human infections and in retail meat sources, specifically chicken.”
Many researchers are already convinced there is a link between antibiotics resistant bacterial infections in humans and antibiotic-fed chicken people buy from retail stores.
ABC News reports that Maryn McKenna, reporter for the Food & Environment Reporting Network, said: "What this new research shows is, we may in fact know where it’s coming from. It may be coming from antibiotics used in agriculture.”
The ABC News report claimed that about 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in the livestock industry. They are fed to livestock raised on factory farms where crowded conditions require regular use of antibiotics to prevent disease outbreaks. Feeding animals antibiotics became more widespread in the livestock industry when scientific research confirmed that it increases health, growth rate and performance of animals.
Manges said: “We’re particularly interested in chickens. They, in many cases, are getting drugs from the time that they were in an egg all the way up to the time they are slaughtered.”
According to the New York Daily News, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and a specialist in "superbugs," told ABC: “I think these scientists are right. But I think it’s going to be impossible to prove.” Besser said that part of the problem is that bladder infections develop slowly and several months may pass between consumption of contaminated chicken and the first signs of infection.
National Chicken Council refutes McGill studyABC News reports that the chicken industry disputes the conclusion of the McGill study. The National Chicken Council, in a statement, quotes veterinary experts refuting "a small Canadian study" that links urinary tract infections in humans with E.coli found in chicken. The statement quotes Dr. Randall Singer, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota's Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, saying:
“Bacteria move dynamically, not just in one direction from animals to humans; all pathways must be considered. The studies in question make the assumption that humans carrying these E. coli acquired them from poultry. The strains did not originate in poultry and likely entered these farms from sources originating in human communities. Perhaps most importantly, the potential transmission of antibiotic resistant E. coli to humans says nothing about why these E. coli are antibiotic resistant in the first place. The resistances observed in these E. coli are common globally and are unlikely to be attributed to chickens given the few antibiotics available for use in poultry in the U.S.”
The veterinary expert concluded: “These studies have nothing to do with antibiotics in poultry product and further changes to antibiotic use in poultry will not change the potential human health risks associated with these foodborne E.coli.”
The statement by the National Chicken Council also quotes Charels L. Hofacre, DVM, Ph.D, professor and director of clinical services at the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine, refuting the study conclusion: “The data is not an accurate representation of how antibiotic resistance transfers from meat to humans. The study’s authors are making some really big stretches of their data.”
Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., National Chicken Council vice president of science and technology, also questioned the study and reminded consumers of chicken products about proper cooking and handling of poultry products. He said that bacteria, both resistant and non-resistant, are killed by proper cooking. According to Peterson:
“While we question the overall conclusions of these findings, the study’s researchers point to improper food handling during meat preparation for food-borne urinary tract infections. So it is always pertinent to remind consumers about the importance of safe food handling and cooking – washing of hands, cutting boards and utensils, cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and preventing cross contamination in the kitchen.”
The National Chicken Council also refuted the statement in the ABC report that “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are fed to livestock and even healthy chicken.” The statement said the statistic is not from FDA and claimed that no human and animal data that makes such conclusion possible is available. According to the National Chicken Council, "Fully 40 percent of the animal antibiotics counted are compounds not used in human medicine, and therefore, their use in animals cannot be compared with those used in humans. FDA has outlined this point in letters to Congress that list several reasons the data cannot be compared and used in this manner."
According to ABC News, the McGill researchers admit there is no study definitively linking E. coli in the chicken industry with E. coli infection in women. The researchers say that part of the difficulty for such a study is that it would require intentionally exposing women to the bacteria. The researchers insist, however, that there is evidence that chicken have the bacteria that show highest resistance to treatment in cases of bladder infections in women.
ABC News cites the case of Adrienne LaBeouf, 29, who says she has seen her doctor repeatedly about her persistent bladder infection. She said: “It feels like I have some kind of infection that just won’t go away. It was cured for a little while, and then it comes back with a vengeance.”
The Huffington Post reports that the National Institute of Health says urinary tract infections occur when bacteria, fungi or viruses infect the urinary tract, with bacteria being the most frequent cause of infection. The body usually removes bacteria from the urinary tract, but sometimes the bacteria remain in the tract and cause an infection.
According to The National Institute of Health, bacteria found in the bowel are the usual cause of urinary tract infections and E. coli causes most cases.