Painful: A urinary tract infection

Painful: A urinary tract infection can cause an unpleasant burning sensation

More than one million women in the UK suffer from painful urinary tract infections every year. Now scientists think they may be caused by an unusual culprit - chickens.

Researchers have long suspected that the infections are caused by a person's own E. coli bacteria.

However, a new Canadian study found the germ strain most likely came from poultry.

A team from McGill University in Montreal compared the genetic fingerprints of E.coli from urinary infections to 320 samples of E.coli from chicken, pork and beef. They found chicken was a surprisingly close match.

'Chicken may be a reservoir for the E. coli that cause infections like urinary tract infections,' said study author Amee Manges.

The data suggested the infections came directly from the birds rather than from human contamination during food processing.

What is more, the scientists suggested that modern farming methods could be making the situation worse.

'We are concerned about the selection and amplification of drug-resistant E. coli on the farms because of improper or overuse of antimicrobials during food animal production,' Mr Manges said.

 

'During the past decade, the emergence of drug-resistant E. coli has dramatically increased.

'As a consequence, the management of UTIs, which was previously straightforward, has become more complicated; the risks for treatment failure are higher, and the cost of UTI treatment is increasing.'

He said reducing the use of antimicrobials on farms could even lead to a reduction in the level of drug-resistant infections in humans.

Chickens living in cramped conditions are more likely to pass infections on to eachother

Modern farming: Chickens living in cramped conditions are more likely to pass infections on to each other

A new type of resistance in E.coli called Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamase (ESBL) has been spreading among British farms, according to the Soil Association.

They said in the UK between five and 10 per cent of all urinary-tract infections caused by E.coli are now ESBLs and have called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in livestock.

However, a 2008 study found while 12 per cent of chicken breast samples taken from shops contained ESBL-producing E.coli, only 1.6 per cent of samples were UK reared compared to 37 per cent from overseas.

Despite this, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, announced £500,000 of Government-funding last month for new research into antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Proper kitchen handling and cooking of chicken helps kill the germs and so reduces the chances of catching an E. coli infection.

Up to 1.5million women develop a urinary tract infection every year in the UK with women being 50 times more likely to catch a UTI than men.

Symptoms can include a burning sensation when urinating, a need to visit the toilet often and pain in the lower abdomen. If it hasn't cleared up on its own after a few days, sufferers should visit their doctor for a course of antibiotics.

Complications of a UTI aren't common but can be serious and lead to kidney failure or blood poisoning.