UTIs Harder to Treat Because We Use Too Many Antibiotics

2 min read

Simple UTI treatment could become a thing of the past as E. coli develop antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic Resistance and UTIs 

E. coli, the bacteria responsible for over 90% of UTIs, was named on World Health Organization (WHO)'s list of bacteria to watch, according to PBS. A few months later, Popular Science reported that some urinary tract infections (UTIs) now manage to survive multiple rounds of antibiotic treatment, require bacterial cultures, and last much longer than the usual few days.

What’s happening here? UTIs are becoming harder to treat because we use too many antibiotics, plain and simple.

This development is incredibly alarming, considering that UTIs make up almost 25 percent of all infections, and more than half of women will get at least one in their lifetimes. For much of recent history, UTIs have been treated as a minor nuisance—an easy-to-treat infection that is inconvenient but can easily be cleared up. It’s always been a pain to schedule a doctor's appointment for a diagnosis and acquire a prescription of antibiotics, and it can be costly depending on your insurance situation. But at least the result is always the same—infection, gone.

Dr. Jeffery Henderson, Associate Professor at Washington University in St. Louis and part of the school's Center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research, told Popular Science that he's noticed UTIs are becoming harder to treat. And he's surprised by how quickly the antibiotics used to treat common infections are becoming unreliable.

According to Henderson, one class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, went from being almost completely reliable at the beginning of his medical education, to now working only 30 to 50 percent of the time. “We lost an entire class of antibiotics,” says Henderson.

You probably know that  UTI is caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract. 90% of UTIS are caused by the bacteria E. coli. Yet, there are many different types of E. coli, and some are more likely to wreak havoc on our immune systems.

Some types of bacteria are simply better equipped at dodging the immune system than others. What makes bacteria so much worse than others is the ability to lay dormant, and survive long periods of time inside our own cells. These bacteria get inside cells in the urinary tract and create what is called a ‘biofilm’, a protected cluster that is safe from our immune cells and even from antibiotics. These bacteria can survive through a cycle of antibiotics, and once complete when the immune system is weakened the bacteria can grow and re-establish an infection.

So, what’s the takeaway? As it stands, your UTI will still get cleared up with antibiotics. It may just take weeks instead of days, with more problem solving from your physician than required in the past. Either way, it’s a great time to start thinking critically about prevention, rather than relying on treatment.

About the author: Jenna Ryan is CEO and co-founder of Uqora, a women’s health company dedicated to UTI prevention.


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