UMN students look to educate about antibiotic resistance in UTIs

As part of a Grand Challenge Curriculum course, four undergrads hope to educate students about urinary tract infection antibiotic resistance.

Gwiwon Jason Nam

After contracting a urinary tract infection in the first week of fall semester, senior Ericka Copeland was prescribed antibiotics to fight it. 

“It infected my kidneys,” said Copeland, a University of Minnesota journalism senior. “If I had waited any longer, they told me I would have become septic and my other organs would have become infected, and then we’re talking about a … much bigger procedure and possibly death.”

Soon, however, she found that the UTI completely resisted the medication she was given. 

“They tested my particular UTI bug with Bactrim,” Copeland said. “It turned out that my bug literally didn’t work.”

A team of four undergraduate University students hopes to spread awareness about antibiotic-resistant UTIs like Copeland’s as part of their Grand Challenge Curriculum course. Their advisor, James Johnson, senior associate director of the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program at the University, held a lecture on Thursday to educate community health providers about the increasingly antibiotic-resistant UTIs.

“I’ve been on a lot of different antibiotics for my UTIs,” said Rachel Grushan, one of the student researchers leading the project. “To the point where recently I was put on an antibiotic before my doctor realized the bacteria causing my infection was resistant to it.” 

Grushan was not aware of the significance of her problem until she took the course. She and her group mates realized patients may also be unaware of the significance of antibiotic resistance. They proposed the project, aiming to prevent antibiotic resistance by increasing awareness about UTIs and how to treat them.

“Our … project aims to address this lack of understanding among college-aged patients visiting Boynton with their first UTI,” said Reem Elbasher, one of the team members.

UTIs are common. Ten out of every 25 women will experience UTI symptoms in their lifetime, according to the American Urological Association.

The team suspects that raising awareness among UTI patients about antibiotic resistance may make patients more likely to take preventative measures against contracting the condition in the future, which may decrease antibiotic use in the long run.

They plan to provide handouts at Boynton Health to educate UTI patients about antibiotic resistance. The clinic currently discusses the resistance at length with patients, said Jennifer Krzmarzick, interim chief medical officer at Boynton.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health challenges of today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die nationwide. 

The students hope to have a followup meeting with Boynton’s director of public health to discover if their handout would be an effective approach at the campus clinic.

“We’re not necessarily pushing our flier idea,” Elbasher said. “We just want to be able to play some role in addressing this issue from the student’s perspective.”

She said they hope to be able to pitch other ideas and work with providers to come up with the most effective tool to mitigate overuse of antibiotics and fit the goals of Boynton.

“Ultimately, we hope that a student perspective can be helpful when advocating for the health of our peers,” Elbasher said.

Correction: A previous version of the article missated Jennifer Krzmarzick’s position. Jennifer Krzmarzick is no longer the director of primary care at Boynton Health.