What is it?
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are fairly common in children, with estimations that around eight percent of girls and two percent of boys will have a UTI during their childhood. UTIs are generally caused by a bacterial infection in the bladder or urethra. The infection can also spread up to the kidneys.
What is the urinary tract?
The urinary tract is made up of the kidneys, the tubes (ureters) leading from the kidneys to the bladder, the bladder itself and the tube leading from the bladder to the outside of the body (the urethra).
The kidneys act as 'cleaners' of the blood. They separate out 'waste' from the blood and then get rid of the waste by making urine (wee). Urine is mostly water, but it also contains many different chemicals that the body needs to get rid of.
The bladder wall has many muscles, some of which (those around the bottom or 'neck' of the bladder) hold onto the urine until the person is ready to let it out (urinate, wee), and other muscles which squeeze the urine out when you go to the toilet. Babies do not have conscious control of any of these muscles, but as they get older they get some control of the muscles which hold on to the urine so that they can be 'toilet trained'.
Source: Women’s and Children’s Health Network
A UTI may make a child only mildly ill or very sick depending on the age of your child, symptoms may be very vague or quite specific. You should always make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect your child may have a UTI as it can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition.
What are the symptoms?
Babies and young children may find it difficult to communicate their symptoms to you. They may develop a temperature and be irritable and unsettled. Young children might go to the toilet more often than usual or might start to wet their bed at night.
For children who are old enough to communicate easily with you, common symptoms include:
- Pain while passing urine
- Needing to go to the toilet more often
- Strong-smelling urine
- Bed wetting
- General feeling of being unwell and perhaps loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
Is it contagious/serious?
UTIs aren’t contagious however they can be serious and you should always visit your doctor.
In children particularly, a UTI could indicate a serious underlying condition such as urinary reflux (vesico-ureteric reflux) which is a bladder valve problem causing urine to flow back into the kidneys. If your doctor suspects this condition they may request an ultrasound or a "DMSA" scan to look at kidney function.
Children who have had a UTI can be more susceptible to further bouts of UTI.
What are the treatments?
Your doctor will collect a sample of urine to be tested and may start your child on a course of antibiotics. The test can take 48 hours to confirm the infection, however your doctor may start the antibiotics immediately. Even if the test returns a negative result, it’s important to finish the course of antibiotics.
If your child is very sick they may need to be hospitalised, otherwise a course of antibiotics by mouth should clear up the infection. If your doctor suspects and bladder or kidney problems as a result of the UTI they will discuss with you what further tests and treatment may be needed.
To help prevent further infections, encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids, especially water and to go to the toilet regularly. Also encourage your daughters to wipe from front to back after going to the toilet.
The Children’s Hospital, Westmead:
Parenting and Child Health: