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Escherichia coli is the most dominant pathogen causing urinary tract infections (UTIs), but the current most frequently prescribed antibiotics do not always effectively cure the infection due to quiescent persister bacteria. While it has been reported that some essential oils have antimicrobial activity against growing E. coli, the activity of essential oils against the non-growing stationary phase E. coli which is enriched in persisters has not been investigated. We evaluated the activity of 140 essential oils against stationary phase uropathogenic E. coli UTI89 and identified 39, 8 and 3 essential oils at 0.5%, 0.25% and 0.125% concentrations to have high activity against stationary phase E. coli. Among the top eight essential oils, Oregano showed higher activity than the known persister drug tosufloxacin. The other top seven hits included Allspice, Bandit "Thieves", Cinnamon bark, Syzygium aromaticum, Health shield, Cinnamon leaf and Clove bud. In Oregano essential oil drug combination studies with common UTI antibiotics, Oregano plus quinolone drugs (tosufloxacin, levofloxacin, ciprofloxacin) completely eradicated all stationary phase E. coli cells, partially enhanced the activity of nitrofurantoin, but had no apparent enhancement for fosfomycin, meropenem and cefdinir. Our findings may facilitate development of more effective treatments for persistent UTIs.
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