Crystalline bacterial biofilm formation on urinary catheters by urease-producing urinary tract pathogens: a simple method of control

Robert J Broomfield, Sheridan D Morgan, Azhar Khan, David J Stickler
Journal of Medical Microbiology 2009, 58: 1367-75
The problem of catheter encrustation stems from infection by urease-producing bacteria. These organisms generate ammonia from urea, elevate the pH of urine and cause crystals of calcium and magnesium phosphates to form in the urine and the biofilm that develops on the catheter. In this study, a laboratory model was used to compare the ability of 12 urease-positive species of urinary tract pathogens to encrust and block catheters. Proteus mirabilis, Proteus vulgaris and Providencia rettgeri were able to raise the urinary pH above 8.3 and produce catheter-blocking crystalline biofilms within 40 h. Morganella morganii and Staphylococcus aureus elevated the pH of urine to 7.4 and 6.9, respectively, and caused some crystal deposition in the biofilms but did not block catheters in the 96 h experimental period. Isolates of Klebsiella pneumoniae, Klebsiella oxytoca, Enterobacter cloacae, Serratia marcescens, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Providencia stuartii were only capable of raising the pH of urine to a maximum of 6.4 and failed to cause crystal deposition in the biofilm. The most effective way to prevent catheter encrustation was shown to be diluting urine and increasing its citrate concentration. This strategy raises the nucleation pH (pH(n)) at which calcium and magnesium phosphates crystallize from urine. Increasing the fluid intake of a healthy volunteer with citrated drinks resulted in urine with a pH(n) of >8.0 in which catheter encrustation was inhibited. It is suggested that this dietary strategy will be an effective means of controlling catheter encrustation, whichever bacterial species is causing the problem.

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