Urinary tract infections attributed to diverse ExPEC strains in food animals: Evidence and data gaps

thumbnail of Singer-ExPEC-Front-Micro-2015 Singer RS
Frontiers in Microbiology 6:1-9

Between 70 and 95% of urinary tract infections (UTI) are caused by strains of Escherichia coli. These strains, often termed Extraintestinal Pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC), possess specific virulence traits allowing them to colonize more inhospitable environments, such as the urogenital tract. Some ExPEC isolates from humans have similar virulence factor profiles to ExPEC isolates from animals, and because of the potential for these strains to cause UTI in people, these infections have been referred to as foodborne UTI, or FUTI. Finding similarities in ExPEC in animals and humans is not necessarily proof of transmission, particularly a unidirectional pathway from animals to humans; similarities in virulence factor profiles should be expected given the specific bacterial requirements for colonizing physiological compartments with similar characteristics in all animals. Many of the most important strains of human ExPEC globally, such as ST131, are highly virulent and clonal implying routes of transmission other than food. Documenting routes of transmission is particularly difficult due to the wide range of potential ExPEC sources, including the human intestinal tract, and non-human reservoirs such as food animals and retail meat products, sewage and other environmental sources, and companion animals. The significant environmental reservoir of ExPEC, including strains such as ST131, could potentially explain much more completely the global dissemination of virulent ExPEC clones and the rapid dissemination of new strains within the community. Taken in its totality, the link between ExPEC in animals and UTI in humans might exist, but studies conducted to date do not enable an estimation of the relative importance of this route of transmission. To reduce the burden of illness associated with ExPEC, the scientific community needs to push forward with ecologically-based, scientifically-sound study designs that can address the plethora of ways in which E. coli can spread.

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