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Chicken Meat Linked to Drug-Resistant UTI Epidemic

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

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