If you present with symptoms of a UTI, treatment will most likely be a short course of first-line antibiotics, such as trimethoprim 300 mg orally at night for three days or cephalexin 500 mg orally twice daily for five days. However, research has found that between 20–30 percent of patients will fail this treatment1 and may go on to develop complications of an embedded infection. There are currently no treatment guidelines for the sub-group of patients who do not fully respond to standard UTI therapy.
For someone in Australia with recurrent UTI (i.e. repeat UTIs that test positive using standard cultures), existing treatment guidelines include a trial of long-term prophylaxis (low-dose antibiotics to prevent further infections), self-start therapy or post-intercourse prophylaxis2.
In the United Kingdom and the United States, patients diagnosed with chronic UTI (by practitioners specially trained in diagnosing and treating the complex condition), are treated with long term, full dose, first-generation antibiotics. Due to the nature of the infection (with the bacteria embedded between and within bladder wall cells) the microbes causing the infection can remain safe from antibiotic or immune attack for long periods of time. It is when they become active—usually when the cells they are hiding in slowly shed into the urine—that the antibiotic effectively eradicates them. Therefore, antibiotic treatment protocols for chronic UTI require a constant level of antibiotics in the urine, over a lengthy period. This prevents active bacteria from escaping, reinfecting and colonising new cells in the bladder/urethral lining.
The treatment period for chronic UTI is individual and varies from patient to patient. If patients receive a diagnosis and treatment for chronic UTI early into the infection, treatment is usually complete within 6–12 months. However, by the time of diagnosis most patients have suffered a chronic infection for an average of six and a half years, so the infection is more complex and the treatment may take longer.
This 2018 study is based on the chronic UTI treatment protocol developed by Professor James Malone-Lee and his team over many years.
Researchers from the University College London analysed the case studies of 624 women over ten years at the Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (LUTS) Clinic at the Whittington Hospital, London. The patients had suffered their symptoms an average of six years, with no treatment having brought relief. The group included existing diagnoses of overactive bladder (OAB), bladder pain syndrome/interstitial cystitis (BPS/IC) and recurrent UTI (rUTI). Based on their symptoms and detection of pyuria (white blood cells) in microscopic analysis of immediately fresh urine, the patients were treated with a full dose of first-line, narrow spectrum oral antibiotics, such as cefalexin, nitrofurantoin or trimethoprim, along with the urinary antiseptic Hiprex, for an extended period.
Long-term antimicrobial treatment (for an average period of just over a year) resulted in significant reductions in patients’ urgency, pain, frequency and voiding symptoms, and a decrease in pyuria. The large majority (84 per cent) of the women who completed treatment experienced improvement: 64 per cent rated their condition as “very much better” and a further 20 per cent rated it as “better”. These improvements were achieved with a very low frequency of adverse effects and no increase in antibiotic resistance.
The study findings are important because, under standard diagnostic criteria, these patients would have been told they had no infection or an infection that was resistant to certain antimicrobial agents.
This second study looked at patients at the same UTI specialist treatment centre in London and how 122 patients responded when their treatment was suddenly stopped for four weeks. The study concludes that the “unplanned cessation of antibiotic therapy produced a resurgence of symptoms and lower urinary tract inflammation in patients with chronic LUTS, supporting an infective aetiology below the level of routine detection.”
There are practitioners in the United Kingdom and the United States who offer long-term antibiotic therapy to treat chronic UTI. Most of these practitioners will treat international patients who come to visit them in-clinic. The following website shares some information about chronic UTI practitioners based in the United Kingdom and United States.
There are a growing number of General Practitioners in Australia who are treating chronic UTI with the treatment protocol described in the 2018 study outlined above. Contact us if you need help connecting with other chronic UTI patients who are being treated or who are researching their treatment options.
Hiprex is an old antibacterial agent that acts as a urinary antiseptic. It’s main function is to clear planktonic bacteria that release into the urine during the bacterial ‘release-replicate-reinfect’ shedding cycle. Therefore, it can play a supportive role and is often prescribed by chronic UTI specialists in conjunction with long-term antibiotics. Although it is considered safe, some patients report uncomfortable bladder symptoms when introducing Hiprex early on into treatment. Patients have also found it is helpful to take vitamin C to enhance the mechanism of Hiprex by acidifying the urine.
Hiprex can be purchased over-the-counter in Australian pharmacies. More information can be found on the Hiprex website.
‘Bacteriophages’ (commonly called ‘phages’) are a type of virus that invade and infect bacteria. Phage therapy can be used instead of antibiotics or in combination with them.
Phages are a natural and essential part of the human microbiome. Each phage is highly specific to a given species, or even a certain few strains, of bacteria. The phage ‘feeds’ on the nutrients of the bacteria: when nutrients run out, the phage bursts open the bacterial cell and invades other bacterial cells of that type. When the bacteria run out, the phage disappears.
Phage therapy is the use of phages to treat disease-causing bacteria. Phage therapy was a promising area of UTI treatment in the early 20th century but was abandoned—at least in the United States and Western Europe—when antibiotics became commercially available 3. However, phage therapy has continued to be used in some Eastern European countries.
As part of phage treatment, tests are conducted to try to identify the specific pathogen causing the patients’ symptoms (and hence which phage might kill it). While the required laboratory analysis can be quite expensive, it means that—unlike antibiotics—the phage will kill only the intended pathogen and will not affect the rest of the person’s microbiome. However, as testing for chronic UTI (including DNA) is being heavily debated in the scientific community, some say there is no proof the identified pathogens in the urinary tract are responsible for the infection. This puts a question mark over the phages developed and if they are targeting the right bacteria.
The emergence of multiple antibiotic resistant organisms in the general community has led to renewed interest in and scientific research on phages. A recent review of research relevant to UTI is freely available online by searching for the following article:
Garretto, A., Miller-Ensminger, T., Wolfe, A.J. and Putonti, C., 2019. Bacteriophages of the lower urinary tract. Nature Reviews Urology, 16(7), pp.422-432.
While phages appear to have been used successfully to treat UTIs in many patients, and in optimising results from combined therapies, it is not a miracle cure and does not work for everyone. New approaches to using phages to treat UTIs are being investigated but are in the early stages of development 4.
Chronic UTI Australia Incorporated has limited experience of patients being treated with phage therapy. At present, phage preparations are classified as investigational drugs in Australia and are not widely available 5.
Melbourne’s Associate Professor Patrick Charles is an infectious disease specialist treating patients with frequent recurrent UTIs using urinary bacteriotherapy. This involves colonising the bladder with ‘good’ bacteria to prevent ‘bad’ bacteria from taking over and causing symptoms.
The bacterial solution is instilled direct into the bladder through a catheter over three consecutive days. Each procedure is brief and the solution needs to remain in the bladder for several hours before voiding. It does not require hospitilisation.
Urinary bacteriotherapy works best for people with frequent recurrent UTIs just involving the bladder. It is not suited for infections involving the kidneys, infections caused by stents, catheters or kidney stones, people with low immune function or people taking antibiotics.
We currently have very sparse patient reports on how effective this treatment has been for people with chronic UTI.
For more information about urinary bacteriotherapy and if you are eligible for this treatment, you can contact the Austin Health Infectious Disease Department in Melbourne.
Vaccines are used to stimulate the production of antibodies (proteins that the immune system produces to target and counteract specific bacterial or viral ‘antigens’), to strengthen the immune system’s attack on the disease producing-antigen. They are prepared from a form of the antigen that does not induce disease. Chronic UTI Australia Incorporated is aware of two vaccines on the market for UTI:
Uro-vaxom is designed to strengthen the immune system’s response to E.coli bacteria6. Research in animals has demonstrated a protective effect against experimental infections. The preventative treatment regimen consists of one capsule daily on an empty stomach for three consecutive months. Uro-vaxom can also be used as a 10+ day course of treatment for acute UTI episodes, in conjunction with antibiotics. Uro-vaxom can be ordered online from Visionary Health in Newcastle, at a cost of about AU$250 plus delivery.
Uromune is marketed as a preventative treatment against four types of UTI-causing bacteria: E.coli, K. Pnuemoniae, P. Vulgaris and E. Faecalis. It is sprayed under the tongue daily for at least three consecutive months. In a 2017 study, 59 (78%) of 75 women with recurrent UTIs who completed a three-month course of Uromune had no further UTIs in the twelve-month follow-up period. In the twelve months prior to treatment, all women had three or more episodes of UTI. Uromune is not available for purchase in Australia. By arrangement, it can be collected in person from some urologists in New Zealand. Contact Urology Care Wellington or Bay Urology in Tauranga. The cost is approximately AU$320, plus the costs of delivery from the supplier to the urology clinic. Note that Uromune must be kept refrigerated.
While these vaccines appear to be safe, with only mild side-effects in a small proportion of people, we have heard mixed reports of their effectiveness. However, some patients have found this treatment useful when used in conjunction with another treatment. We have several anecdotal reports from chronic UTI patients who have had one or more courses of Uromune while also being treated with antibiotics, who found they experienced fewer UTI flare-up while taking the vaccine.
Neither vaccine is a cure for chronic UTI. Our experience suggests that at present, vaccines are probably best thought of as an adjunct to other treatments rather than a stand-alone treatment for chronic, embedded UTIs.
Further information and patient experiences can be found in the online patient information and support groups. Please contact us if you would like a list of online groups we currently know about.
Some patients will pursue alternative treatments for their chronic UTI for a variety of reasons. They may not have access to a diagnosis or antibiotic treatment; some may not be able to tolerate antibiotics; and others simply prefer to follow a more natural treatment path. Popular alternative treatments reported by patients include natural products like d-mannose and uva ursi, other natural antimicrobials (ie allicin, oil of oregano, colloidal silver), traditional Chinese medicine, ozone therapy and dietary changes.
Success using alternative treatments varies between individuals and often involves trial and error. What works for one person might not work for the next. Reported success is based on anecdotal evidence, so exploring this treatment approach requires good research and communication with others who have successfully treated their own chronic infections. When you find the right treatment approach for you, it is important to realise that due to the nature of the embedded infection, any treatment is going to take a considerable amount of time and you need to be patient and persistent.
Please always do your own research on any potential treatment, including medicines that are considered ‘natural’, and discuss the information further with your healthcare professional.
Many people find the natural supplement d-mannose provides relief from some UTI symptoms. D-mannose is a naturally occurring sugar found in some foods, but the supplement form is sourced from trees such as the birch. Mannose is found throughout the human body and in the cells lining the bladder wall. Free floating bacteria, such as e. coli, will attach to the d-mannose that has made its way to your bladder and are then flushed out when you empty. The Sweet Cures website gives recommendations on how to dose d-mannose to treat UTIs and also as a preventative. For instructions, click here and scroll down to the heading ‘How to take D-Mannose’.
Professor Scott Hultgren’s research team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, USA, is working on a mannose UTI treatment that is many times more powerful than D-Mannose. His team has “chemically modified mannose to create a group of molecules, called mannosides, that are similar to mannose but changed in a way that the bacteria latch onto them more tightly with their pili. Unlike mannose receptors, though, these mannosides are not attached to the bladder wall, so bacteria that take hold of mannosides instead of mannose receptors are flushed out with urine’.
Read this article to learn more https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/uti-treatment-lowers-numbers-gut-e-coli-may-offer-alternative-antibiotics/
Patients have found uva ursi to be helpful in treating UTI symptoms. The leaves of the evergreen uva ursi shrub (also referred to as bearberry) are said to have been used by Native American Indians to treat urinary infections. Uva ursi contains several chemicals and tannins that are effective in reducing inflammation and fighting infection. Uva Ursi is recommended for short-term use only and comes with some strong precautions and possible interactions. Like all potential treatments, uva ursi should be researched thoroughly and discussed with your healthcare practitioner to see if it is a right fit for you. Further information on usage and side effects can be found here.
Watch this video testimonial from one Australian who shares how she cured her chronic UTI by treating herself over a period of time with a combination of d-mannose and uva ursi
There are anecdotal reports of people curing their chronic UTI using Chinese medicine, independently or in combination with mainstream antibiotics. In 2017 a London TCM practitioner ran a small trial treating people with recurrent/chronic UTI with Chinese herbal medicine. The results of the trial are not yet available; however several people have so far reported having ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ results. If you can access a good TCM practitioner locally, Andrew Flower of London will email them the formula used in the trial. You can contact Andrew Flower by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please always do your own research on any potential treatment and discuss the information further with your healthcare professional.
The University College London’s (UCL) Chronic UTI Research Group is involved in developing an innovative new treatment for chronic UTI designed to put an end to the need for long-term, oral antibiotics. The technology involves filling micro-bubbles with high-dose antibiotics which are delivered directly into the bladder where they can penetrate the bladder wall. Once in place, the bubbles are activated and antibiotics are released at the source of the infection where they can eradicate the intracellular bacterial reservoirs. This exciting new technology has the potential to be used to treat a wide range of serious conditions, with clinical trials for chronic UTI taking place in 2019. The Atocap website states the following about chronic UTI:
“AtoCap’s development of penetrating nano-or microcapsules may offer a solution to all of these problems – introduced directly into the bladder in a simple, painless outpatient procedure. It offers a unique way to repurpose already-approved therapeutics for a renewed utility.”
More information about micro-bubble treatment can be found at: http://atocap.com/
The following Youtube video features Eleanor Stride, Professor of Engineering at Oxford University and joint Founder of Atocap. Professor Stride explains how microbubble technology works as a targeted drug delivery system and the exciting potential of this treatment beyond treating Chronic UTI.