If you’re a woman, you’ve probably had a urinary tract infection before. I certainly have, my friends have—it’s nothing to hide: over half of women will experience a UTI at some point in their lives. (Men, you’re not home free; you too can get a UTI, but only 1 in 7 of you probably will.)
New research this week in the journal Cell Host & Microbe sheds new light on this common infection and why it often comes back. It turns out the common bacterial culprit, uropathogenic E. coli, has some secret weaponry.
Let’s first review how a UTI actually starts. Your urinary tract is made up of your kidneys, bladder, ureters (the tubes that transfer urine from your kidneys to your bladder), and urethra (the tube that empties urine from your bladder). A UTI occurs when a germ, usually bacteria, enters your urinary tract through your urethra. It can make its way to your bladder and even to your kidneys; the severity of symptoms differs depending on how far up the bacteria gets. If you’ve had the frequent urge to run to the bathroom followed by a burning sensation while you’re urinating, you’ve had a UTI.
The Bacteria’s Secret Weapon
This morning I spoke with the paper’s lead researcher, Bijaya Dhakal of the Department of Pathology at the University of Utah. He and co-author Matthew Mulvey examined how uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC), the bacteria responsible for the majority of UTI cases, has an important virulence factor: the toxin α-hemolysin.
Think of virulence factors as different weapons in an arsenal. Each UPEC—think of her as a solider—has her own unique selection of weapons. Continue reading