What is a urinary tract infection?
In healthy people, urine in the bladder is sterile—no bacteria or other infectious organisms are present. The tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body (urethra) contains no bacteria or too few to cause an infection. However, any part of the urinary tract can become infected. An infection anywhere along the urinary tract is called a urinary tract infection (UTI).
UTIs are usually classified as upper or lower according to where they occur along the urinary tract, although it is sometimes difficult or impossible for doctors to make such a determination:
Lower UTIs: Infections of the bladder (cystitis)
Upper UTIs: Infections of the kidneys (pyelonephritis)
Some doctors also consider infections of the urethra and prostate to be lower UTIs. In paired organs (such as the kidneys), infection can occur in one or both organs. UTIs can occur in children as well as in adults.
Symptoms of a UTI can vary depending on the degree of infection and your child’s age. Infants and very young children may not experience any symptoms. When they do occur in younger children, symptoms can be very general. They may include:
- poor appetite
- overall feeling of illness
The initial signs of a UTI in children can be easily overlooked. Younger children may have a difficult time describing the source of their distress. If your child looks sick and has a high fever without a runny nose, earache, or other obvious reasons for illness, consult their doctor to determine if your child has a UTI.
The organisms that cause infection usually enter the urinary tract by one of two routes. The most common route by far is through the lower end of the urinary tract—the opening of a man’s urethra at the tip of the penis or the opening of a woman’s urethra at the vulva. The infection ascends the urethra to the bladder, and sometimes to the kidneys, or both. The other possible route is through the bloodstream, usually to the kidneys.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are almost always caused by bacteria, although some viruses, fungi, and parasites can infect the urinary tract as well. More than 85% of UTIs are caused by bacteria from the intestine or vagina. Ordinarily, however, bacteria that enter the urinary tract are washed out by the flushing action of the bladder as it empties.
Your child’s UTI will require prompt antibiotic treatment to prevent kidney damage. The type of bacteria causing your child’s UTI and the severity of your child’s infection will determine the type of antibiotic used and the length of treatment.
Hospitalization may be necessary in cases where your child:
- is younger than 6 months old
- has a high fever that isn’t improving
- likely has a kidney infection, especially if the child is very ill or young
- has a blood infection from the bacteria, as in sepsis
- is dehydrated, vomiting, or unable to take oral medications for any other reason
Pain medication to alleviate severe discomfort during urination also may be prescribed.