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. 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,” 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).
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Writing for National Geographic, Maryn McKenna reported:
“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 … When 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.”
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.
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. As reported by The Atlantic in 2012
“[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 research 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.”
Flies and Contaminated Manure May Also Spread Drug Resistant Gene
Aside from consumption of contaminated meat, flies have also been identified as a carrier of the mcr-1 gene. According to PBS:
“Flies at poultry farms in China were loaded with bacteria containing genes for antibiotic resistance, the team discovered. The same team also found E. coli containing mcr-1, a gene that imparts resistance to colistin, an antibiotic of last resort, in 1 percent of hospital patients in two of China’s large cities, neither of which have a history of using colistin to treat humans.
They also discovered in the hospitals genes that offer resistance to carbapenems, another class of last-resort antibiotics. Researchers think the flies carried the bacteria from farms to cities, where they transmitted the bacteria to humans. Carriers like these flies could be more commonplace, suggesting the need for experts to keep a watchful eye on superbugs’ paths.”
For over a decade we’ve also known antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present in agricultural soils, typically deposited there via contaminated manure and/or so-called biosolids (toxic sewage waste), and this is yet another route into the food system. Sadly, even organic gardeners may inadvertently contaminate their home garden by applying potting soil with biosolids.
Researchers at the University of Southampton are trying to understand the situation better by studying “how antimicrobial resistance is introduced into natural soil bacteria, for example from manures applied by farmers or exposure to domesticated or wild animal and bird fecal droppings, and how this transfer takes place in different soil types.”
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, 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.
How to Treat UTIs Without Antibiotics
You’ve probably heard that drinking cranberry juice can be helpful in supporting a healthy urinary tract and can help flush out a UTI. However, most cranberry juice is also loaded with fructose, which tends to promote health problems when consumed in high amounts. For this reason, I don’t recommend drinking cranberry juice when you have an infection. Since your immune system is already taxed, adding fructose into the mix is inadvisable.
A far better alternative is pure D-mannose, which is the active ingredient in cranberry juice responsible for its benefit to your urinary system. It can also be derived from berries, peaches, apples and other plants. Pure D-mannose is 10 to 50 times stronger than cranberry and has been shown to cure over 90 percent of UTIs within one to two days. It’s nontoxic and completely safe, with no adverse effects.
I also recommend trying D-mannose before you resort to antibiotics, to avoid killing off beneficial bacteria. Digestive problems and secondary yeast infections are common side effects of antibiotics. D-mannose doesn’t actually kill bacteria — it just renders them unable to stay in your urinary tract.
The cell walls of E. coli are covered with tiny fingerlike projections called fimbria, made of a glycoprotein called lectin that makes them sticky. This allows them to cling to the inner walls of your bladder and even work their way upward to your ureter and kidneys.
The lectin on the bacteria’s fimbria binds to mannose, which naturally covers the internal lining of your urinary organs. This is why they’re so difficult to flush out. When you take D-mannose, the E. coli suddenly find mannose molecules present not only on the surface of your epithelial cells, but also in the urine. As they latch on to the mannose in your urine, they are easily expelled through your urine.
To help flush the bacteria out, be sure to drink plenty of clean, pure water to encourage plentiful urination. To alleviate the burning sensation, dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 8 ounces of water and drink the whole glass first thing in the morning. Its alkaline nature can help neutralize or lessen the acidity of your urine, thereby making urination less uncomfortable.
Pay Attention to Symptoms of Kidney Infection and Sepsis
While D-mannose has a track record of working quickly and effectively in most cases, with the advent of drug-resistant bacteria, be sure to take any UTI seriously and watch for signs and symptoms of kidney infection and/or sepsis, both of which will require medical attention. Kidney infections can cause permanent kidney damage and kidney failure if not promptly resolved, or can spread to your bloodstream, leading to sepsis (blood poisoning). One-quarter of sepsis cases are in fact related to UTIs.
In addition to the classic UTI symptoms — which include burning with urination, frequent urge to urinate, lower abdominal pain, cloudy or bloody urine — symptoms of kidney infection can include:
Back, side (flank) or groin pain
Signs of sepsis, which can quickly become lethal if left untreated, include the following:
Shortness of breath; rapid breathing
Increased heart rate
If you have any of these symptoms, get immediate medical help and let them know you could potentially have sepsis. If it’s after hours, go to the emergency room. Again, be sure to inform the staff you may have sepsis, as time is of the essence when it comes to treatment. If that fails to incite a rapid response on their part, be assertive and insist on quick action, which would ideally include a combination of intravenous (IV) vitamin C, thiamine (vitamin B1) and hydrocortisone (a steroid).
This treatment was developed by Dr. Paul Marik, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in East Virginia, and has become the standard of care in that facility. Giving septic patients this simple IV cocktail for two days has been shown to reduce mortality nearly fivefold, from 40 percent to 8.5 percent. For more information, please see “Vitamin C — A Game Changer in Treatment of Deadly Sepsis.”