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Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 00:04 GMT
E.coli used to reduce infection
E. coli
E. coli can cause serious infection
Scientists have found a way to use the E. coli bug to their advantage.

E. coli can be responsible for serious cases of food poisoning.

But US research suggests it can be used to reduce the risk of infection among patients who need to be fitted with urinary catheters.

The logic here is similar to the concept of the ground cover plant phenomenon in gardening

Mr Derek Machin
The discovery may reduce the need to give patients antibiotics, thus reducing the risk of adverse reactions, and minimising the chance that urinary tract bacteria will become resistant to current treatments.

Some patients can require catheters for a period of years. They may either be incontinent, or unfit for surgery.

A team led by Dr John Thornby, of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, discovered that coating urinary catheters with E. coli reduces the subsequent growth of another bacterium, Enterococcus faecalis, which can cause urinary tract infections.

It is a particular problem in patients who must be catheterised for extended periods of time.

The researchers used a form of E. coli which is known to persist in the urinary tract without causing symptoms.


They incubated catheter pieces for 24 hours in a solution containing the bug.

The pieces were then immersed in a broth containing E. faecalis before being incubated for a further 24 hours in sterile urine.

Tests revealed that the level of E. faecalis colonisation on the catheter pieces that had first been incubated in the presence of E. coli was ten times lower than on uncoated catheter pieces.

The work suggests that coated catheters could be used to establish a colony of E.coli in the bladders of patients that would guard against the development of infection.

It is thought that E. coli may produce chemicals called bio surfactants or other microbial products that block E. facealis cells from establishing themselves on a surface.

Live yoghurt

Mr Derek Machin, clinical director of urology at University Hospital, Aintree, told BBC News Online that a similar principle was already used for female patients in which yoghurt containing live bacteria is introduced into the vagina.

He said: "The logic here is similar to the concept of the ground cover plant phenomenon in gardening - keeping out the bad bugs.

"Some people who have a catheter fitted do get a raging infection."

The research is published in the Journal of Urology.

See also:

28 Jun 01 | Health
Cranberry juice beats infection
09 Feb 00 | Health
Bacteria may be added to tampons
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