Antibiotic resistant UTIs are on the rise. Here’s what you need to know

UTIs are largely caused by the E. coli bacteria, which is getting much better at resisting antibiotics. Getty Images

Anyone who’s had a UTI (urinary tract infection) knows how inconvenient it can be. The only thing that makes it tolerable is knowing that it’s easy enough to cure with a course of antibiotics. But there’s no telling how long that solution will be available going forward.

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In a World Health Organization (WHO) report released earlier this year, scientists found rates above 25 to 50 per cent of resistance to antibiotics commonly used to treat UTIs. They’re most often caused by the bacteria E. coli, and if left untreated could cause complications as serious as kidney damage and sepsis. This is of concern especially in areas where doctors and hospitals are less well-equipped.

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“Because quinolones [an antibiotic] are probably one of the most widely used groups of antibacterial drugs for the treatment of urinary tract infections, for which E. coli is the most common cause, resistance to this class may be indicative of resistance to one of the last available oral treatment options, particularly in low-resources settings,” the report states.

In a worst-case scenario, health professionals may prescribe colistin or carbapenem for severe infections. They’re administered via IV and can cause side effects ranging from diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and skin rash to liver injury. However, even these are losing their potency over E. coli. Researchers note that they have found colistin-resistant E. coli in food animals in China.

READ MORE: Why STI rates are steadily going up in Canada

“One of the compounding problems seems to be that there are no new antibiotics in the pipeline at this point so we clearly need more research,” Ellen Goddard, a professor of agricultural marketing and business at the University of Alberta and an expert in the socioeconomic impact of antibiotic resistance, tells Global News.

“But the problem is that bacteria evolve, so if we use antibiotics on them, eventually they develop to the point that the antibiotic no longer works and we need a new one. And globally, we are running out.”

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What’s worse, we may be partially to blame for this resistance. A report published by the British government in 2016 revealed that humans are to blame for the excess of antibiotics in our bodies through their overuse in agriculture, over-the-counter medications and spill-off from medical waste.

According to the 2017 Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System report, family physicians were responsible for 65 per cent of all antibiotics prescribed to patients in 2016; among the most common was amoxicillin, a drug used to treat genito-urinary system infections. That same year, one-million kilograms of antimicrobials were distributed for sale for use in animals by the Canadian Animal Health Institute member companies, of which 99 per cent were used for food-producing animals. (It bears noting, however, that the amount of antimicrobials was actually 17 per cent lower than the previous year.)

READ MORE: What to eat and drink if you have a urinary tract infection — and what to avoid

How to prevent UTIs

Although women are at greater risk of UTIs than men, both genders can get them. The Mayo Clinic advises taking the following steps to prevent infection:

  • Drink plenty of water: This will dilute your urine and help flush out the bacteria.
  • Drink cranberry juice: The research is inconclusive on the power of cranberry juice to help cure a UTI, but as the clinic notes, it can’t hurt.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the toilet: This prevents bacteria from spreading to the genitals.
  • Empty your bladder after sex: It also helps to drink a glass of water soon after to help flush bacteria out.
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine products: This includes sprays, douches and powders.
  • Switch up your birth control: Diaphragms and unlubricated or spermicide-treated condoms can contribute to bacterial growth.

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