Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and Proteus Mirabilis

Updated on April 14, 2019
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with a first class honors degree in biology. She often writes about the scientific basis of disease.

Proteus mirabilis and other bacteria live in the large intestine, which consists of the colon and the rectum. The rectum stores feces until it's ready to be released through the anus.
Proteus mirabilis and other bacteria live in the large intestine, which consists of the colon and the rectum. The rectum stores feces until it's ready to be released through the anus. | Source

Proteus mirabilis and UTIs

Proteus mirabilis is a rod-shaped bacterium that lives in the large intestine of many people. It's often harmless and forms a normal part of the gut flora, the useful community of microbes that shares our body with us. Under certain conditions, however, the bacterium can escape from the intestine and cause a urinary tract infection.

Bacteria are routinely shed in the feces. The feces leaves the intestine through the anus. In women, bacteria may pass from the anus to the nearby urethral opening. Once the microbes enter the urethra they may cause a urinary tract infection, or UTI. Men may develop UTIs as well, though the disorder is less common in males than in females.

Proteus infections are commonly associated with the formation of stones. The bacterium causes solid crystals to form in urine. Crystals join together to make stones. Small stones may leave the body on their own. Large ones may become trapped in the urinary tract and obstruct urine flow. They may also be very painful.

Although I've focused on Proteus mirablis in this article, some other bacteria can also cause UTIs. Possible symptoms and treatments for these infections are generally similar to those for a P. mirabilis one. The latter bacterium tends to trigger the formation of stones in the urinary tract, however, which may require additional treatment.

The urinary system or tract and nearby blood vessels: 2 = kidney, 3 = renal pelvis, 4 = ureter, 5 = urinary bladder, 6 = urethra
The urinary system or tract and nearby blood vessels: 2 = kidney, 3 = renal pelvis, 4 = ureter, 5 = urinary bladder, 6 = urethra | Source

Structure and Function of the Urinary System

Produces urine by filtering blood and then changing the filtrate's composition by adding and removing substances
Each kidney contains around a million tiny filtering tubes called nephrons.
Renal pelvis
Drains urine from the kidneys
The renal pelvis is also called the pyelum.
Transports urine from the renal pelvis to the urinary bladder
Urinary bladder
Stores urine temporarily and then sends it to the urethra
Stretch receptors in the bladder lining "tell" the brain that the bladder is full.
Transports urine from the urinary bladder to the outside world
In a male the urethra transports sperm as well, although not at the same time as urine.
We have a kidney, a renal pelvis, and a ureter on each side of our body (at the back of the abdomen). We have only one urinary bladder and urethra, which collect and transport urine from each kidney.

Someone who is concerned about experiencing a UTI should contact their doctor for advice. The following information is given for general interest only.

Causes of UTIs and Possible Prevention Steps

In women, the anus is behind and close to the urethral opening. It's easy for bacteria to move from the anus to the urethra, which is why hygiene and careful toilet habits are so important. Health experts recommend that women wipe from front to back after defecation to reduce the chance of bacterial entry into the urethra. Bacteria can also enter the urethra from the opening to the reproductive tract, which is located between the anus and the urethral opening.

Women have a far higher incidence of UTIs than men, not only because of the location of their urethral opening but also because their urethra is shorter. A female's urethra is about one and a half inches in length while a male's is about eight inches long. In a female, the bacteria don't have far to travel to reach the urinary bladder and the rest of the urinary tract.

If some bacterial cells do manage to enter the urethra, the flow of urine may be able to flush them away. Urinating when necessary instead of retaining urine is one method used to reduce the chance of a UTI, as is drinking an adequate amount of water. Infections may develop if a large number of bacteria enter the urinary tract. In addition, people with structural abnormalities in the tract that tend to trap fluid are more likely to develop a UTI. In men, an enlarged prostate gland may exert pressure on the urinary tract and prevent adequate fluid flow, increasing the risk of an infection.

These are white blood cells in the urine of someone suffering from a urinary tract infection. The cells are part of the immune system.
These are white blood cells in the urine of someone suffering from a urinary tract infection. The cells are part of the immune system. | Source

Catheters and Urinary Tract Infections

People who have a catheter in the urethra have an increased risk of a UTI. A catheter is a medical device that drains urine from the body. It's a flexible tube that is placed in the urethra, positioned over the urethral opening or connected to the bladder to drain urine from the body. The urine enters a drainage bag. The catheter may be inserted temporarily or may be left in place (an indwelling catheter).

A catheter may be used in situations where it's difficult for a person to urinate normally. Two of these conditions are urinary incontinence and urinary retention. In urinary incontinence a person is unable to stop the release of urine from the bladder, while in urinary retention a person finds it difficult to release urine. A catheter is also used when there is spinal cord damage which prevents the normal process of urination or when a person is temporarily incapacitated in hospital.

Catheters are very useful devices. Unfortunately, the catheter surface may become coated with a film of bacteria that is hard to remove and becomes a continuous source of infection.

Anyone with symptoms that might indicate the presence of a urinary tract infection should visit a doctor. An untreated infection may have serious consequences. These include kidney damage or failure and infection and inflammation in the bloodstream, which is known as sepsis.

Possible Symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection

A person may have no symptoms of a urinary tract infection. However, there may be unpleasant symptoms, such as:

  • a strong and frequent urge to urinate
  • a burning pain during urination
  • pain or pressure in the lower abdomen
  • cloudy urine
  • blood in the urine
  • strong-smelling urine
  • a low-grade fever

If the infection spreads to the kidneys, a person may experience additional symptoms. These include a high fever, shaking and chills, back pain, nausea and vomiting.

Information About UTIs in Women

Proteus mirabilis

Proteus mirabilis is an interesting, single-celled bacterium that exists in two different forms. These forms are known as swimmer cells and swarmer cells. Swimmer cells are rod-shaped and have eight to ten thin, whip-like extensions called flagella. The flagella enable the bacterium to move through a liquid. Each cell is one or two micrometers in length. A micrometer (µm) is a millionth of a meter or a thousandth of a millimeter.

When the swimmer cells settle on a surface their structure changes. They become much longer—up to eighty µm in length—and develop many more flagella. The flagella are very thin and may not be visible in photos or videos. The cells are now known as swarmer cells. The swarmer cells form an arrangement called a raft. In the raft, the flagella of neighboring cells become interwoven. The bacteria in the raft coordinate their movements and the raft as a whole moves rapidly over a surface, acting almost like a multicellular creature.

Swarming Proteus mirabilis

Bacteria and Urinary Tract Infections

Proteus UTIs are rare in people with normal urinary tracts, although they do occur. Escherichia coli urinary tract infections are far more frequent in this group of people. Proteus mirabilis infections are more common in people with structural abnormalities in their urinary tract that trap urine or in people who have a urinary catheter inserted in their body for a long period of time.

Proteus exhibits interesting behavior that may harm its host.

  • The bacterium contains an endotoxin in its cell wall. The toxin causes an inflammatory response in the host when it's released.
  • Fimbriae on the cell wall of the bacterium help it to adhere to the urinary tract lining and other surfaces.
  • The bacterium can form stationary films on top of surfaces, including urinary catheters. Bacteria in films (biofilms) are harder to eradicate than free-living bacteria because they secrete a slime that protects their bodies.
  • Proteus triggers the formation of mineral stones and crusts in the urinary tract of its host.

Facts About UTIs in Men and Women

Proteus mirabilis and Urinary Stones

Most people infected by Proteus mirabilis have stones in their urinary tract. Proteus releases an enzyme called urease. Urease acts on urea, a waste substance in urine. It converts the urea into ammonia, a basic (alkaline) substance that causes the pH to rise. The increased pH triggers calcium phosphate in urine to become solid and form apatite crystals. It also triggers magnesium ammonium phospate to solidify, forming struvite crystals.

Crystals aggregate to form stones, which may block the flow of urine. Bacteria of multiple species may enter crevices in the stones and become difficult to eradicate with antibiotics. The crystals may also form crusts on the inside and outside of catheters. Crusts inside a catheter can interfere with urine flow.

Stones not only act as a reservoir for bacteria but also increase the chance of an infection spreading up the urinary tract to the urinary bladder. Bacteria may enter the pelvis of the kidneys and even the kidneys themselves, where they form new stones. Cystitis (infection and inflammation of the urinary bladder) and pyelonephritis (infection of the renal pelvis and kidneys) are common in people who have stones in the urinary tract.

These are struvite stones from a dog's urinary bladder. The same stones form in humans during a Proteus mirabilis infection
These are struvite stones from a dog's urinary bladder. The same stones form in humans during a Proteus mirabilis infection | Source

Possible Treatments for a UTI

Antibiotics are generally used to treat urinary tract infections. Catheters may be removed, at least until the infection has been cured. Once a person is better, a new catheter may be inserted if this is absolutely necessary. Stones that are large enough to cause problems may be broken up by a process called shockwave lithotripsy or by another method. Surgery may be used to remove large stones.

In the future, a vaccine may be created to prevent a Proteus mirabilis infection in the urinary tract. A vaccine would be very helpful, since the infection is common in certain groups of people and is sometimes challenging to treat.

References and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

  • What happens if a urinary tract infection doesn't get better?

    Chronic urinary tract infections are ones that last a long time or reoccur. Despite the word “chronic” in their name, doctors can prescribe treatment methods that may suppress the symptoms. They can also suggest lifestyle changes that may help the condition.

    A doctor may suggest a natural medicine if pharmaceutical ones don’t help. He or she should be consulted if you plan to use a natural medicine by yourself to discover any problems with it.

    It may take time to find the best solution for a particular UTI or for recurring ones, but the effort is worth it to relieve discomfort.

  • How contagious is E. coli if it shows up in a catheter?

    Hygiene is very important when someone has a catheter in place, especially when the urinary drainage bag is emptied or changed. Hygiene is also important when a patient has a known catheter-associated urinary tract infection with E. coli or another microbe.

    A doctor or nurse must be consulted to learn the correct procedures for avoiding bacterial transfer both to and from a patient who has a catheter. The medical professional will be able to tell you about any risks and how to avoid them.

  • I recently had a UTI and experienced some major symptoms. I received medical treatment and finally feel better. Does this mean that the bacteria that caused the infection have disappeared?

    Only a doctor can answer this question. He or she may have to order another urine analysis in order to give you an answer, but that decision is up to them. Since you experienced major symptoms that took some time to disappear, I think it’s important that you visit your doctor again.

© 2013 Linda Crampton


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    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Mo. Cats do experience Proteus mirabilis infections in their urinary tract, though I don’t know whether cats and humans are infected by the same strain of P. mirabilis. I haven’t seen reports of the bacterium in the digestive tract of cats, though it may occur there, as in humans. I’ve also seen no reports that the bacterium can pass to humans via cat feces.

      Some diseases are zoonotic, or capable of passing from animals to humans, and cat feces can pass certain infectious agents to humans. None of the lists of these agents that I’ve seen have included Proteus mirabilis, however.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      Hi Linda, thank you for sharing your knowledge. I am a 32 y old male - otherwise healthy - and recently was diagnosed with my first UTI... The lab tests showed that Proteus is the culprit - my doctor was surprised as he said it is very rare for my gender and age...I'm not sure how I caught it....the only change in my environment the past couple of months is that I had to cat-sit for a friend who was traveling...is that a possible mode of transmission (cleaning litter box than urinating for ex without properly washing hands?)

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      20 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You should ask your doctor this question, Waseem. He or she is the best person to advise you.

    • profile image

      Waseem Rehman 

      20 months ago

      I have a UTI problem and I am athlete . Running and abbs exercise may effect my body during UTI. Should I stop doing exercise untill I recover or carry on my exercises ?

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      21 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm sorry that your husband is having such a difficult time. Some bacteria take a long while to defeat. Perhaps your husband could visit the doctor again to discuss the problem or visit another doctor if necessary. I hope he finds a solution soon.

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      So my husband has been fighting a uti for four months they give him antibiotics and it clears up and then comes right back. The doctor doesn't know why and neither does the urologist. The tests show E. coli every time but I don't know how he is getting it. He is a very clean person and showers daily. He is on a maintaining antibiotic that he takes daily and still keeps getting this infection. I don't know what to do anymore.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Peg. Thanks for the visit and the comment. UTIs are an interesting topic biologically, but they are very unpleasant to experience!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      3 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Fascinating information about these common infections. Over the years I've had my share of UTIs and never really understood what caused them. Also, I learned a lot about kidney stones. Had to have one of those removed some years back. This makes so much sense as to why they form.

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 

      4 years ago from On Planet Earth

      Thank U Alicia ;)

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm so sorry about your condition and the problems that you're experiencing, LadyFiddler. I hope new treatments are discovered very soon and that they improve your life. Best wishes to you. Thank you for commenting.

    • LadyFiddler profile image

      Joanna Chandler 

      4 years ago from On Planet Earth

      I some how wished they already had the vaccine. I am suffering with this said condition for about 1 1/2 yrs now it is awful. I have tried so many things, went to so many doctors , did so many tests and spend money like crazy. Yet i am truly suffering i urinate approximately on an average day 30 times sometimes more. I am not exaggerating the least i would go is about 20 times. I always have a toilet on my mind. I cannot hold the urine it burns my abdomen area if i really have to. I cannot go anywhere in peace least i need to use a rest room.

      I am trusting God to harken unto me and have mercy and heal me.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment, Christina. Good luck with your son's UTI's. I hope they don't return!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great article!

      I have an almost 6 year old who has no history of UTI until 4 months ago when he got his first. Lab confirmed the 3 uti's caused by proteus mirabilis.

      Renal ultrasound all perfect so we've been told likely cause is that he is not circumcised and doesn't drink much.

      I increased fluid intake, cut back fats etc and fingers crossed no further uti's (early days yet)

      Great article, thanks for the detail!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit, CraftytotheCore. I appreciate your comment!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      Very interesting! I never knew there was so much to a UTI. Those are very painful.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Deb. That's an interesting question. Some people claim that drinking lots of tea increases the risk of kidney stones due to the high level of oxalates that tea contains. I don't know if this has been proven scientifically, though. Thanks for the comment.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Great info, Alicia. When I was living elsewhere, a friend that I knew never drank water, always tea. He had stones a lot. Could that have been due to the fact that he never drank water?

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Kathi. Yes, drinking lots of water is very important! Thanks for the visit and the comment.

    • Fossillady profile image


      6 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Hello Alicia, Drink lots more water, I have found that makes all the difference! Thanks for sharing very useful information. These are so common among us women and very painful!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the comment, b. Malin. I appreciate your visit. Urinary tract infections are common in women. People who never get one are lucky!

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 

      6 years ago

      My Sister is prone to getting UTI, and yet I've never had one...Luck? As usual Alicia, a very Educational and most Informative read. I Never realized that Men can get them too...who knew? Once again, thanks for another well researched Hub.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Leah. The stones from the dog do look big. They must have been painful! I'm glad the surgery helped you with your infections. Thanks for the visit!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      6 years ago from Western New York

      Oh, wow - the stones from the dog's bladder are so insanely big. I can't imagine having to pass one! I was prone to frequent bladder and kidney infections as a child (urinary reflux, grade V), but fortunately had surgery to prevent the backward flow of urine into my kidneys. I haven't had a bladder infection since - and fortunately have never had kidney stones!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and comment, drbj. I found the swarming video fascinating, but I didn't think of it as art when I first saw it. You're right, though, the scenes do look like abstract art!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating examination, Alicia, of urinary tract infections. The swarming proteus mirabilis bacteria in the video almost seem to be creating a series of abstract art images. Did you notice?

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Bill. I appreciate all your comments!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You continue to educate me and for that I am grateful.


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