By: Manuel Seraydarian
Ever wonder why our bodies are not being eaten inside out on a daily basis? The entire planet is teeming with microorganisms, with most of them threatening to infect us with their parasitic, symbiotic desire to invade us and leech off of our nutrients and blood supply that our organs work hard to maintain. Our intestines, for instance, are a breeding ground for microscopic inhabitants since that is where most of our food particles get absorbed into our bloodstream and the formation of fecal matter starts to develop. Surprisingly, it is the Escherichia coli (E. coli)--a normally harmless microorganism we have a commensal relationship with, living in our digestive tract, that helps limit the colonization of pathogenic microbes and assists with waste processing and food absorption--that is the culprit. Subsequently, though, sometimes through various means of action, Extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC), a different, more aggressive strain, can be introduced into the urinary system and cause a severe bacterial population boom, resulting in adverse health risks to the individual . Thus comes to light the reality that we can become susceptible to the traitorous intentions of our own microscopic dwellers.
Uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) are extraintestinal pathogens that can invade the urinary system, thus causing what we know of to be a urinary tract infection (UTI). Normally meant to live within the flora of our intestines harmlessly, these bacteria can cause problems throughout the many regions of the urinary system that it can cling onto. Structurally, E. coli has adhesive fimbrae (tentacle-like) and a cell wall–an outer membrane (protection from the external environment) containing lipopolysacharides that allows it to fasten onto the transitional cell walls or stratified squamous cell walls of the bladder and urethral canal . The specific strain, E coli O157:H7, is resistant to acidic conditions, which allows it to remain viable and accumulate in the acidic urinary system. The infection is spread through an ascending pathway from the urethral opening, up the urethral canal into the bladder, within the ureter walls and finally into the kidneys; each portion of this passageway is susceptible to infection . These microbes proliferate and generate a biofilm, slime-like substance that adheres them to the urinary walls. Invading these walls leads to “intracellular bacterial communities” (IBCs), where these microbes become drug-resistant and bypass the host immune system’s responses .
Exposure to this virulent strain of E. coli is a result of contact with fecal matter in some way that allows these microbes to transfer into the urinary system. Unfortunately, females acquire UTIs at a much higher percentage than males for a couple reasons: the female urethra is very close to the anus, and females have a much shorter urethra . The simple act of wiping the anus can be a major factor; it is not only hygienically advised, but health-wise, women should wipe from the front to the back so as not to introduce the bacteria to the urethral opening. Another form of bacterial transfer is through anal intercourse, which without a condom allows the bacteria in the rectum to travel through the male urethra and infect the male; but he can even infect a woman if he inserts back into the vaginal opening, thus compromising her health as well .
Urinary tract infections have distinct symptoms that are directly related to the effects of the E. coli infection, which, if left untreated, can lead to organ failure and the potential for the infection to spread to other organs. Some main symptoms include: a burning sensation while urinating; the frequent urge to urinate; pain or pressure in the lower abdomen; cloudy, dark, bloody, or strange odor of the urine; and, if the infection is spread to the kidneys, the individual may be feeling fevers or chills . Treating the UTI will be done through strict adherence to antibiotics and drinking lots of water in order to increase urination and flush out the bacterial remnants . It is a bittersweet notion that microscopic organisms that would normally help us with simple digestive processes can also fatally harm us.
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