Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in Children
What is a urinary tract infection (UTI) in children?
A urinary tract infection is inflammation of part of the system that takes urine out
of the body. It’s caused by bacteria. The urinary tract includes the 2 kidneys. They
remove liquid waste from the blood in the form of urine. Narrow tubes (ureters) carry
urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Urine is stored in the bladder. When the bladder
is emptied, the urine travels through a tube called the urethra and passes out of
the body. Bacteria can infect any part of this system.
What causes a UTI in a child?
Normal urine contains water, salts, and waste products. It's free of germs such as
bacteria, viruses, and fungi. An infection happens when germs enter the urethra, travel
up to the bladder, ureters, and kidneys, and begin to grow. Most infections are caused
by bacteria from the digestive tract. The most common is E. coli (Escherichia coli)
bacteria. These normally live in the colon.
Which children are at risk for a UTI?
A UTI is not common in children younger than age 5. A UTI is much more common in girls.
This is because they have a shorter urethra. A UTI is unlikely in boys of any age.
But it can occur in boys if part of the urinary tract is blocked. Uncircumcised boys
are more at risk for a UTI than circumcised boys. A child with a part or full blockage
in the urinary tract is more likely to develop a UTI.
Bubble baths may irritate the urethra and allow bacteria to grow there. Incorrect
wiping (child should wipe front to back) increases the risk. This is even more risky
after a bowel movement. Delaying going to the bathroom and constipation are also linked
What are the symptoms of a UTI in a child?
Symptoms can be a bit different for each child.
Symptoms in babies can include:
Symptoms in children can include:
Sudden need to urinate
Need to urinate often
Loss of control of urine (incontinence)
Pain while urinating
Pain above the pubic bone
Blood in the urine
Nausea and vomiting
Pain in the back or side below the ribs
The symptoms of a UTI can seem like other health conditions. Have your child see their
healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a UTI diagnosed in a child?
The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. The
provider will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have tests, such
Urine testing (urinalysis). Your child’s urine is sent to a lab to check for red blood cells, white blood cells,
bacteria, protein, and signs of infection. The urine will also be sent for a culture
and sensitivity. This is done to figure out what type of bacteria is causing the infection
and what medicine is best to treat the infection.
Kidney ultrasound. This is a painless imaging test. It uses sound waves and a computer to make images
of blood vessels, tissues, and organs. It can show internal organs as they function
and can assess blood flow through vessels. A boy with a UTI or a girl younger than
age 5 or 6 may need this test.
Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG). This is a type of X-ray of the urinary tract. A thin, flexible tube (catheter) is
put in the tube that drains urine from the bladder to the outside of the body (the
urethra). The bladder is filled with a liquid dye. X-ray images are taken as the bladder
fills and empties. The images will show if there is any reverse flow of urine into
the ureters and kidneys.
Nuclear medicine scan. This scan can help find out if there is scarring or a more severe infection. A small
amount of radioactive tracer is injected through an IV. Then pictures of the kidneys
will be taken. This will show how well the kidneys are working.
How is a UTI treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:
Your child's healthcare provider may want to see them back again a few days after
treatment starts to see how treatment is working.
Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible
side effects of all treatments.
How can I help prevent a UTI in my child?
You can help prevent UTIs in your child if you:
Have your child drink plenty of fluids
Tell your child to empty their bladder fully when urinating
Teach girls to wipe from the front to back after going to the bathroom
Make sure your child doesn’t get constipated
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Key points about a UTI in children
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is inflammation of part of the system that takes urine
out of the body.
Most infections are caused by bacteria from the digestive tract. The most common is
E. coli bacteria. These normally live in the colon.
A UTI is not common in children younger than age 5. A UTI is much more common in girls
because they have a shorter urethra.
A UTI is unlikely in boys of any age, unless part of the urinary tract is blocked.
Uncircumcised boys are more at risk for a UTI than circumcised boys.
Symptoms vary by age. They can include fever, need to urinate often, pain, and crying.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.