Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and Proteus Mirabilis Bacteria
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.
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.
Drains urine from the kidneys
The renal pelvis is also called the pyelum.
Transports urine from the renal pelvis to the 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 also transports sperm, though not at the same time as urine.
Someone who is concerned about experiencing a UTI or who suspects that they may have one 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 quite easy for bacteria to move from the anus to the urethra, which is one reason why hygiene and careful toilet habits are 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.
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. 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 UTI should visit a doctor. An untreated infection may have serious consequences. These may include kidney damage or failure. They may also include an infection in the bloodstream that causes widespread inflammation in the body, a condition 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 one or more of the following:
- 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 may include a high fever, shaking and chills, back pain, nausea, and vomiting. A doctor must be consulted in order to receive a diagnosis and treatment for the symptoms.
Information About UTIs in Women
Although I focus on Proteus mirablis in this article, some other bacteria can also cause UTIs. Escherichia coli. or E. coli, is a common cause of an infection known as cystitis in the urinary bladder, for example. It can also infect the lower part of the urinary tract.
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 uncommon in people with normal urinary tracts, although they do occur. Escherichia coli urinary tract infections are 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
Many 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.
Possible Treatments for a UTI
Antibiotics are often 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. The bacterium is interesting to study, but it can cause problems.
- Urinary tract infection information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Facts about UTIs from the Mayo Clinic
- Tips for preventing a UTI from the NIH
- Which organisms are responsible for urinary tract infection? (a question and answer from Medscape)
- Information about Proteus mirabilis from the Public Health Agency of Canada
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.Helpful 4
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.Helpful 1
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