Escherichia coli is a common cause of urinary tract infections, and can migrate to the vagina where it contributes to aerobic vaginitis. E. coli can also cause infections in the digestive tract resulting in diarrhoea, and gallbladder and blood infections, among other issues, since E. coli lives naturally in the digestive tract. E. coli is easily passed from the anus to the vagina and urinary tract.

E. coli is adapted to live in the urinary tract, where the force of urine makes it cling on harder to your cells. This means you can’t wash E. coli away by drinking a lot of water. E. coli can also swim. E. coli in the vagina is less common than in the urethra, but vaginal infections can also occur, contributing to vaginal odour, inflammation and discharge. Usually a test will reveal E. coli in the vagina or urinary tract.

E. coli creates biofilms, which is the sticky matrix that protects E. coli and friends, and blocks other, friendly microbes from colonising. This is particularly problematic in the urinary tract and vagina, where a seemingly successful treatment leaves you susceptible to infections in future.

People who ‘get UTIs’ really get them, but there isn’t really the issue of ‘sometimes getting them’. You either do or you don’t, and this is largely down to whether unhealthy biofilms make it easy for you to ‘get’ a UTI again, or not. No biofilms means each new infection is truly new. Recurrent infections are just being recycled, and the bacteria never really go away.

While there are many ways to have symptomatic infections due to E. coli, particularly in food poisoning, this article will focus on urinary tract infections and vaginal infections.

E. coli in urinary tract infections

Most urinary tract infections (80-90 per cent) are caused by E. coli, with high recurrence rates after initial infection. This is likely due to biofilm formation.

     Symptoms of a urinary tract infection caused by E. coli

  • Urethritis (inflammation of the urethra)
  • Cystitis (inflammation of the bladder)
  • Burning while urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Urinary urgency
  • Low-grade fever
  • Cloudy urine (due to white blood cells)
  • Lower back pain
  • A positive test

Diagnosis of E. coli UTI

A dipstick test will quickly establish if there is pus and/or bacteria in the urine. If the kidneys are suspected of being involved, a scan may be appropriate.

Treating an uncomplicated UTI caused by E. coli

Treatment options vary widely for UTIs, however the conventional treatment is antibiotics, in particular fluoroquinolone. Antibiotic resistance is an issue, with multi-drug resistant Enterobacteriaceae, mostly E. coli, being a matter of concern. E. coli strains are resistant to penicillins and cephalosporins, as well as fluoroquinolones and gentamicin.

Non-antibiotic treatments that can be applied at home include herbal medicines, reflexology, and others.

Non-antibiotic treatments for E. coli UTI

Staying hydrated is very important, but plenty of fluids in your system can ease the pain of unfruitful urination and help keep the urinary tract clear as you are doing non-antibiotic treatments.

How to treat a UTI at home

Vaginal infections of E. coli

If you are diagnosed with an infection that includes E. coli, you have what’s known as aerobic vaginitis. This condition is caused by different types of bacteria compared with AV’s cousin, bacterial vaginosis. See the information page for aerobic vaginitis for details, however go through the Killing BV treatment protocol.

Nuts and bolts of E. coli

E. coli is a gram-negative facultative (adaptable) anaerobic organism that comes as a single unit or in pairs. E. coli metabolism is either fermentation or respiratory, and may be non-motile or motile with a flagella (tail).