Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) affect more than 250,000 Australians every year. Two Queensland researchers, Mark Schembri and Scott Beatson have been working tirelessly towards a solution and may have finally made a break-through.

The professors from University of Queensland have been working alongside researchers at University of Utah, examining a patient who has been suffering UTIs on and off for the past 45 years. This patient has helped the researchers to discover a surprising way people’s bodies work against UTIs, which causes them to sustain the infection despite treatment. Although only tested so far on the one woman, the researchers are confident the same scenario would be the case for others who suffer the infection.

What is a UTI?

A UTI can affect any part of the urinary system, including kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. The most common cause of a UTI is a bacterium commonly found in the gut called Escherichia coli (e. coli).

There are a few variations of the infection including urethritis (infection of the urethra); cystitis (infection of the bladder); pyelonephritis (infection of the kidneys); and vaginitis (infection of the vagina). It can be passed onto others via sexual intercourse.

The urinary system is controlled to minimise the risk of serious infection in the kidneys, by stopping liquids flowing liquid back up to the bladder. If the infection is limited to your bladder it can be annoying and painful, but it becomes worrisome when it spreads to the kidneys.

Groups at greater risk

Anyone can contract the infection however some groups are more at risks than other including:

  • Women are at a greater risk of developing the condition than men, as bacteria can reach their bladder more easily. A women’s urethra is only around 5cm long, while a men’s is around 20cm long
  • People with diabetes or other conditions that alter the immune system strength. These people are at a greater risk of contracting infections.
  • Men with prostate issues, as an enlarged prostate gland may cause the bladder to only partially empty when going to the bathroom
  • Babies who are born with congenital abnormalities of the urinary tract. 

Symptoms

Not everyone will have obvious signs of the condition, but some of the common symptoms include:

  • Dark, strong-smelling urine
  • Feeling of needing to go to the toilet more than usual
  • A burning sensation when you urinate
  • The feeling of needing to urinate but not being able to
  • Pain in the centre of the pelvis

House Call Doctor recommends consulting with your GP if you are feeling any of these symptoms, as painful urination may actually be a more serious problem (especially for children). A simple test can diagnose a UTI.

How is it treated and how can I prevent it?

There is no standardised way for treating chronic UTIs but typically doctors prescribe antibiotics.

The professors hope their break-through could reduce the need for very strong antibiotics to treat UTIs as antibiotic resistance is becoming a key concern. The new research found despite treatments successfully removing the bacteria from the bladder, these kinds of antibiotics do not treat other areas where the infection may have spread. The two researchers are working towards a solution for chronic cases, which is tailored to treat each individual, eliminating the infection from both the bladder and other infected areas. This may include testing the patient’s faeces.

Preventions of UTIs:

In order to reduce your likelihood of contracting this infection, five prevention tips are:

  1. Drink plenty of water and other liquids. This ensures you will go to the bathroom more often, allowing the toxins to be flushed away from your urinary tract
  2. Empty your bladder soon after intercourse. This ensures any bad bacteria may be flushed out.
  3. Always go to the bathroom when you feel you need to. Holding in your urine gives bacteria a place to grow.
  4. Wear cotton and airy clothes. This ensures the area is kept dry, which helps prevent bacteria growth.
  5. Avoid bubble baths. This can irritate the urethra, causing people to hold in their urine which allows bacteria a place to grow.