Pediatric UTIs — More Common Than You Think

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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are very common in infants and young children, but they can also pose serious problems if undiagnosed or untreated. The good news is that UTIs are easily preventable and treatable.

As many as eight percent of girls and two percent of boys will have had at least one UTI by the time they turn five. Bacteria are the most common cause of UTIs, most notably, the E. coli bacterium that lives in the bowel and stool. Normally, urine contains no bacteria itself, and regular urination actually helps prevent infections by washing away bacteria on the skin. However, bacteria may occasionally get into the urinary tract and travel back up the urethra. This is what causes infection.

There are two types of UTIs: cystitis (bladder infection) and pyelonephritis (kidney infection). Pyelonephritis is much more serious as it can cause permanent kidney scarring and damage, particularly in infants.


Symptoms of cystitis usually include frequent urination, a burning sensation with urination, low-grade abdominal pain, and foul-smelling urine that may look cloudy or contain blood.

Symptoms of pyelonephritis may also include pain in the lower back, fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Detecting any of these symptoms in infants can be difficult as they express discomfort through irritability and loss of appetite, which is often attributed to other causes.

Prevention and Treatment

The most effective prevention method is diligent hygiene — practice it with your infants and teach it to your children from the time they start bathing themselves. Change diapers frequently. Teach girls to wipe from front to back to prevent the spread of bacteria from the rectum to the urethra. Avoid frequent bubble baths.

Discourage “holding” behavior if your child expresses the need to go. Rather, encourage regular bathroom breaks, along with drinking plenty of water. Hard stools in the bowel create a mechanical compression against the bladder making it more difficult to urinate, so treat constipation at the first sign.

If you do suspect your child may have a UTI, see your doctor immediately; early treatment can stop a mild infection before it travels up to the kidneys. Most cases of UTI are easily treated with oral antibiotics, some with courses as short as four days. Your doctor may begin treatment using a broad spectrum antibiotic, then switch to a narrow spectrum after determining the type of bacteria from the urine culture result. In any event, make sure your child completes the course of antibiotics as prescribed, even if he or she begins to feel better. UTIs may return if not fully treated.


Practice and instill good hygiene habits, look for the warning signs, and see your doctor right away if you do suspect a UTI. In addition, you can read more about the topic from KidsHealth.

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