Urinary tract infections (UTI) are common in young kids. Learn more about the symptoms and how to treat it.

June 11, 2015

What Is a Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection that occurs when bacteria is trapped somewhere along the urinary system. The urinary tract starts at the kidneys, where urine is made, and then travels through the ureters to be stored in the bladder. To leave the body, the urine is expelled through the urethra. Infection in the upper part of the tract nearer to the kidneys is called pyelonephritis; infection in the lower part of the tract is called cystitis. UTIs in small children are common, especially ones along the upper tract, and untreated UTIs can cause kidney damage.

Symptoms and Signs of Urinary Tract Infections

UTIs occur when bacteria get into the urinary tract through the urethra. Older children may report genital pain or burning, which babies cannot articulate. Symptoms of this infection include:

  • Urine with a strange odor
  • Cloudy or bloody (pink/red) urine
  • Less frequent or painful urination
  • Fever that is not due to cold or illness
  • Fussiness or crying for no obvious reason
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

How to Collect a Urine Sample

To confirm that there is a UTI, the doctor may collect urine samples from your child by using a sterile catheter to get urine directly from the bladder. This procedure is uncomfortable but quick, and it lets the doctor diagnose and treat your little one accurately. If more information about your baby's urinary tract is needed, the doctor may perform an ultrasound to see what is happening inside.

Your doctor may ask you to collect a urine sample at home using a kit that contains a plastic bag with adhesive attachments. The bag will fit over your child's genital area and collect the urine sample.

First, wash the area around the urinary orifice thoroughly with soap or use sterile wipes. For girls, always wipe from front to back. Then place the bag over the labia. Make sure the adhesive strip seals between the labia and the anus so there is no possibility of stool getting into the bag and contaminating the urine sample. For boys, the entire penis goes into the bag and the adhesive is sealed to the skin around it.

Next, put a diaper on your child and check periodically to see if there is urine in the bag. Once urine is collected, remove the bag carefully to prevent spilling; then empty the contents into the sterile cup with lid that is provided in the kit. Avoid touching the inside of the cup or the lid with your hands.

After the urine is collected, the doctor will do a urinalysis and a urine culture to determine whether there is a bacterial infection in the urinary tract. Some doctors may ask a health-care professional to collect a sample using a catheter to prevent the sample from being contaminated with bacteria from your hands or the baby's skin.

The doctor may order additional tests to determine if there is an underlying cause -- for example, a problem with the urinary tract structure that makes your child prone to urinary tract infections.

How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections

For babies, make sure diapers are changed often and the bottom is cleaned well during changes. This will help keep bacteria from getting into the urethra, traveling up into the urinary tract, and causing an infection. Also, make sure your baby is getting enough fluids to flush out bacteria through urination.

Treatment for Urinary Tract Infections

In most cases, because UTIs are bacterial infections, they will be treated with antibiotics. Even though test results from a urine culture can take a day or two, your doctor might start antibiotic treatments before getting the results to prevent risks of an untreated infection.

Untreated UTIs in young children can cause permanent damage, including kidney damage. A kidney infection can grow into a life-threatening condition as the bacteria spreads throughout the body. Urinary tract infections can also lead to sepsis.

Copyright ? 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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