Bacteria That Cause Urinary Tract Infections Becoming Drug-Resistant

By Amir Khan on May 4, 2012 8:39 AM EDT

Bacteria That Cause Urinary Tract Infections Becoming Drug-Resistant
Urinary tract infections are becoming drug-resistant, making it harder to find a working cure, according to a new study. Eating cranberries, seen here, are one way to alleviate the symptoms. (Photo: Reuters)

Urinary tract infections are typically treated with antimicrobial drugs, but the drugs are becoming less and less effective, according to a new study, published in the April edition of the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

E. coli is commonly thought of as a cause of food poisoning, but it is also the number one cause of urinary tract infections worldwide, according to the study. UTI's are usually treated with the drug Cipro but the bacteria's resistance to the drug increased five-fold between 2000 and 2010, rendering it useless is nearly 20 percent of cases in the United States. Bactrim, the second most commonly used drug, didn't work in 25 percent of UTI cases in 2010, up from 17 percent in 2000.

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"Our study is important because it shows that E. coli resistance to two common drugs to treat UTIs rose substantially over the last decade," Guillermo Sanchez, study coauthor and graduate student at George Washington University, said in a statement. "For patients, this will ultimately translate into more expensive and sometimes more complex antimicrobial treatments."

Urinary tract infections are the most common infections in humans, according to the study. Symptoms include frequent or burning urination, cloudy and strong smelling urine, and pelvic or rectal pain. Many instances of UTI's resolve on their own, but for some, UTI's can cause kidney and bladder infections.

In addition to antimicrobials, there are some nutritional remedies that may help alleviate the symptoms of a UTI. Drinking plenty of water and eating or drinking cranberries and blueberries help reduce symptoms, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Avoiding sweetened beverages helps as well.

Urinary tract infections are much more common in women, especially those who are sexually active. Sexual activity accounts for 75-90 percent of all UTI's, with the risk increasing with the frequency of sex, according to a 2008 study published in the Urologic Clinics of North America.

Antibiotics and antimicrobials work by killing susceptible bacteria, but some microbes can survive because of an ability to neutralize or avoid a drug. Resistant strains, either naturally or through mutations, survive, multiply and replace bacteria destroyed by antibiotics.

The biggest contributor to bacteria drug resistance is the over-prescription of antibiotics, according to the CDC. Antibiotics are frequently prescribed for viruses, simply because healthcare providers think patients expect them. The common cold is the most common reason antibiotics are prescribed, despite the fact that antibiotics do not affect viruses.

"Our study reveals that [Cipro and Bactrim] are no longer safe for outpatient urinary tract infection," Dr. Jose Bordon, study coauthor and infectious disease specialist at Providence Hospital in Washington, DC, said in a statement.

Researchers said more work needs to be done towards drug development to ensure there is always a working cure for UTI's. Right now, doctors can prescribe the drugs Furadantin or Augmentin for urinary tract infections, but those carry unwanted side effects such as gastrointestinal distress, nausea, and vomiting, researchers said. 

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