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Can eating chicken wings really cause a bladder infection?

chicken wings
All of this “risk” can be greatly reduced by proper handling and cooking of poultry meat, and by good personal hygiene.

A recent report in the journal mBio, published by the American Society of Microbiology, claims that eating chicken wings can cause a bladder infection.

You can read the report for yourself at: https://mbio.asm.org/content/9/4/e00470-18

It should be noted right up front that this issue of meat and/or poultry causing bladder infections in humans has had multiple studies performed and papers written, almost all of which have exonerated meat and poultry products.

The report was titled: “Analysis ties resistant E. coli from poultry meat to human UTIs”. (UTI is a medical acronym for Urinary Tract Infection.)

The study was led by Lance Price, PhD, director of the Antibiotic Resistance Actions Center at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. He was joined by scientists from Norther Arizona University, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, the University of Minnesota and the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Human urine and blood samples were taken in the Flagstaff, Ariz., area, as were meat and poultry meat samples taken from hospital cafeterias and retail outlets.

I already have a problem just with the title alone.

The use of UTIs is very misleading and inaccurate in this humble old country doc’s opinion.

You see, the report says that of the “UTIs”, 48 %, almost half, were asymptomatic bacteriuria, 32% had clinical cystitis, 17% had pyelonephritis and 5% had urosepsis.

Working the preceding paragraph backwards, urosepsis is a blood stream infection that started out as a urinary tract infection and can be deadly.

Pyelonephritis is a kidney infection that can caused high fevers and lead to urosepsis if not treated adequately.

Cystitis is a bladder infection, usually causing no serious health problems, just some painful and very frequent urination.

The kicker is “asymptomatic bacteriuria." Asymptomatic bacteriuria, by definition, is the finding on urinalysis of a few bacteria in the urine in a person who has no symptoms, has no infection and requires no treatment.

It is not a UTI. And the researchers surely knew that when they decided on their title.

Asymptomatic bacteriuria has absolutely no clinical significance, yet the authors include this category because without them they would lose nearly one-half of their statistics, even though this classification is of no threat to your or my health status.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP, located at a contributor to the report, the University of Minnesota) stated that “After analyzing thousands of retail meat products and human urine and blood samples ... the researchers concluded that E coli ST131-H22 ... is prevalent in chicken and turkeys (sic) meat and could be responsible for a small percentage of human UTIs.”

“Thousands” is technically correct, but hyper-inflated if you ask me. You see, again, they collected bacteria from 1,735 positive urine and blood cultures and sampled 2,460 bits of poultry and pork meat.

They found that of the 1,735 human specimens, 72.4% had E. coli in them.

ST131 was the most common sequence type in the human E. coli samples, but were only 15.3%, or 182, out of the 1,188.

Of the “thousands” of meat samples, only 25 contained E. coli ST131.

Numbers are shrinking even using the “asymptomatic bacteriuria” specimens.

To add to the excitement, CIDRAP stated that this lineage of E. coli has “likely been circulating in poultry flocks since the 1940s…”

CIDRAP also points out that “80.9% of the meat isolates and 33% of the human (sic) were resistant to more than three antibiotic classes.”

But neither CIDRAP nor the original report in mBio will tell us what those antibiotics were.

They do tell us they tested for tetracycline resistance, which nearly everything is resistant to and would not be used to treat a UTI.

It seems that every research tests for tetracycline resistance just so they can say they bound antibiotic resistance, a real buzz words these days.

They do not tell us if these E. coli were resistant to Bactrim DS, the drug of choice to treat cystitis, nor do they tell us if third generation cephalosporins, which are banned in poultry feed and water and used to treat pyelonephritis and urosepsis in humans, would be useless because of resistance. 

My money says if the bugs were resistant to these two very important classes of antibiotics that would have been the headline or, at the very least, highlighted in the report.

Lastly, they site E. coli ST131’s “ability to spread from patient to patient” as a particular concern.

I practiced and taught medicine for many years, and unlike the flu or sexually transmitted diseases that pass from human to human, I have to struggle to try and think of any explanation for that last statement. Spreading from patient to patient defies my ability to comprehend.

Because someone has to pee every 30 minutes or so does not cross-contaminate the bladder of the patient in the next room.

Almost all UTIs come from a person’s own colon where E. coli thrive, usually female as was the case in this study because of the anatomy, or from a catheterization procedure.

All of this “risk” can be greatly reduced by proper handling and cooking of poultry meat, and by good personal hygiene in the restroom.

So relax and enjoy those drummies and wings while watching Monday Night Football.

’Tis the reason for the season.

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