What you need to know about the rise in antibiotic-resistant UTIs

What you need to know about the rise in antibiotic-resistant UTIs

Originally published on IFL SCIENCE 

The bacteria responsible for most cases of urinary tract infections (UTIs) are increasingly becoming more resistant to common antibiotic treatments, according to new research published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. It is currently unclear what factors increase a person's risk of contracting these superbugs.

Over the course of a year-long study in a California emergency room, 1,045 patients tested positive for UTIs, 6 percent of which were caused by drug-resistant bacteria. It is a relatively small sample size, but the researchers say it could be indicative of a growing trend of antibiotic-resistant bacteria when it comes to UTIs. Historically, these superbugs were most commonly found in infections incurred in the hospital but, as the study notes, more and more people outside hospital walls are becoming infected. Almost half of the superbug cases in the study were caught outside of the hospital – the highest proportion recorded in the US to date.  

"The rise of drug-resistant infections is worrisome," said study author Bradley W. Frazee in a statement. "What's new is that in many of these resistant urinary tract infections, it may simply be impossible to identify which patients are at risk. Addressing the causes of antibiotic resistance, and developing novel drugs, is imperative. A society without working antibiotics would be like returning to pre-industrial times when a small injury or infection could easily become life-threatening."

A UTI occurs in any part of a person’s urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, when Escherichia coli moves from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to the urethra. In this case, E. coli is showing a resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics.

Bacteria developing a resistance to antibiotics is a naturally occurring phenomenon that acts as a survival mechanism. Like other organisms, bacteria adapt to overcome the things that kill them. In this case, those “things” just so happen to be the tools humans have adopted in order to survive. In recent years, antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been increasingly rising and healthcare professionals are running out of ways to treat these infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate some 2 million people become infected with a drug-resistant bacterium in the US each year, at least 23,000 of which die.

The researchers suggest adapting current measures to help combat growing antibiotic resistance in bacteria. For starters, changing clinical practices to include urine culture tests that identify UTIs will help eliminate overuse of antibiotics used to treat other ailments. Implementing a more reliable follow-up system in those who have resistant bugs will also help physicians understand why some people may become infected more than others. Improving emergency room staff’s knowledge of what antibiotics to use against which bacteria while adhering to treatment guidelines could further help reduce antibiotic overuse.

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