And that includes the pets. Since I saw the ‘TV version’ while at the gym yesterday, that spurred me to get around to discussing this article about the transmission of E. coli within families.
In the article, the authors sampled at least seven isolates* of E. coli from 152 people and 76 pets, and then genetically typed them. Within households, pets were most likely to share genetically identical E. coli (58% of possible ‘pet-pet’ pairs), followed by adult-child (34%), child-child (33%), adult-adult (24%), adult-pet (18%), and child-pet (15%). What’s interesting is that only 12% of shared strains were shared between adults, meaning most transmission of E. coli is not between sexual partners**.
While it’s obvious why this story made it to the teevee machine (“Is your pet giving you the dangerous bacterium E. coli?”), this has real consequences for human health. E. coli is the major bacterium responsible for urinary tract infections (>75%), and most E. coli that can cause UTIs primarily live in your GI tract as harmless commensals (they are often referred to as ‘opportunistic pathogens’). For someone who is prone to having UTIs, her family can serve as a reservoir of disease-causing strains, even though they themselves are asymptomatic. Therefore, we should autoclave her family.
But this might mean that to treat a woman who chronically has UTIs, we might want to consider simultaneously treating her entire family, so they don’t ‘refinfect’ her.
*Seven isolates were taken from each person, along with one isolate chosen from ten different media with antibiotics added (not every person had isolates that were resistant to every antibiotic).
**No jokes about ‘animal companions’ please…
Cited article: Johnson JR, Owens K, Gajewski A, Clabots C. Escherichia coli colonization patterns among human household members and pets, with attention to acute urinary tract infection. J Infect Dis. 2008 Jan 15;197(2):218-24.