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People who suffer from a urinary tract infection may find the cause of their distress in an unsuspecting source – raw, contaminated chicken meat.

While most people think of a urinary tract infection, also called a UTI, as the unfortunate result of sexual activity, or a simple bacterial imbalance, a series of recent reports overturns such thinking, putting the crosshairs on raw poultry that carries the bacteria that causes a UTI.

If that’s not disturbing enough, the fact that UTIs are linked to contaminated poultry speaks to a larger, and more distressing, problem. The UTIs from chicken are proving to be treatment-resistant.

Disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to treatment, which the medical community calls superbugs, are on the rise, and in a big way. Most of the millions of cases of UTIs that occur in the United States every year are tied to a form of the E. coli bacteria, and about 10 percent of those infections – specifically, the bacteria behind them – are antibiotic-resistant.

And experts suggest this is due to the overuse of antibiotics on livestock…including chicken. In fact, most commercially raised animals are pumped full of antibiotics, not to keep them healthy, but to encourage rapid weight gain.

The latest developments bring our attention to the meat and poultry industries, which for years have treated animals with one of the most potent drugs humans have to treat bacteria – an antibiotic known as colistin, which is considered toxic to humans.

MCR Gene Makes Antibiotics Ineffective

Yet some bacterial strains are resistant even to colistin, and scientists point to a specific gene, known as mcr-1, that, when present in an organism such as a bacteria, renders the powerful antibiotic ineffective. More and more bacteria with the mcr-1 gene are appearing, and that means the medical community has little to no recourse for treatment when a person is contaminated with an mcr-1-containing bacteria.

“The MCR gene is important because it represents a breach in the last line of antibiotic defense: It confers protection against colistin, one of the oldest antibiotics out there, and one of the few that continues to work even against bacteria that resist multiple other drugs,” reports Maryn McKenna in National Geographic.

“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,” writes McKenna.

In her research, McKenna turns to the increasing number of UTIs that are tied to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. She continues:

“Only a few researchers have investigated why that tide of resistance is rising. What they have found is that these resistant UTIs infections are not random and singular, but instead constitute a focused epidemic, caused by particular sets of E. coli that bear the same resistance signatures as ones found in meat animals given antibiotics.”

UTIs that go untreated – or can’t be treated – can be catastrophic for those who suffer from them. Think of a kidney infection or dangerous sepsis and you have a good idea of what the outcome might be.

Experts suggest steering clear of mass-produced meat products, which are likely to be treated with antibiotics, and instead to opt for antibiotic-free poultry and meats. Also, when handling meat, you should practice safe hygiene to ensure you’re staying away from dangerous bacteria. Wear gloves and designate separate cutting boards for produce and meat products.

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