A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection affecting the urinary system, most commonly caused by the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli), which resides in the intestinal tract. The urinary tract, which makes and carries urine out of the body, includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra.
How does bacteria get in and cause UTI?
Bacteria or germs usually get into the body through the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder to be passed outside. Once inside the urethra, these germs may travel up into the bladder and cause cystitis, the most common type of UTI.
If this bladder infection is not swiftly treated, it can spread to the kidneys and cause pyelonephritis, a more serious type of kidney infection. While bladder infections can cause slight discomfort and inconvenience, a kidney infection can cause back pains and abdominal pains, high fever, cloudy or bloody urine, nausea and vomiting.
Girls tend to get UTIs more frequently than boys. A probable reason for this is that the urethra of a female is shorter than that of a male, thus making it easier for bacteria to move up into the bladder.
Another reason is the close proximity of the urethral opening to the vagina and rectum, where bacteria are likely to be.
Some children may get UTIs more frequently because they have other problems, like an abnormality in the urinary tract that makes them more prone to infection.
A child is more likely to get a UTI if he or she does not drink enough water or fluids to keep the bladder active and bacteria-free.
The chances of getting a bladder infection are higher if something blocks the flow of urine from the bladder, for example, having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate gland in adults.
In babies and children, a congenital abnormality of the urinary system is a possible cause.
Those who are sexually active also face the risk of UTI. During sexual intercourse, the germs or bacteria in the vaginal area may be pushed into the urethra and up into the bladder, where the urine provides a good environment for the bacteria to grow.
Bacteria can also get into a girl's bladder when she wipes from back to front after urination and bowel movement.
Bladder infection symptoms may include:
·A burning sensation or pain during urination
·Feeling the need to urinate, but little or no urine comes out
·Pain above the pubic bone
·Mild fever and fatigue
In babies less than one month old, infection usually starts from the blood. However, because blood very seldom appears in a baby's urine, it cannot be assumed that he or she does not have a UTI.
Babies will not complain of pain during urination. They will just have fever, painful or tender abdomen, reduced feeding, or cry incessantly. You may also notice prolonged jaundice in these babies. Therefore, admission and aggressive treatment is required for a baby with a UTI as this could be an early sign that the baby's urinary tract is not normal.
Urine needs to be collected to confirm the infection, and appropriate treatment commenced. Repeated or persistent bacteria in the urine will need further investigation to look at any abnormality in the urinary tract.
Young children who can already talk may complain of pain when passing urine, or in the abdomen near the kidneys. Bed-wetting in a child who previously stayed "dry" all night may also be a symptom of a UTI.
If your child has any of the above symptoms, take him or her to see a doctor right away. These symptoms will not simply disappear, and may become worse. The earlier your child is treated, the less uncomfortable he or she will be.
Fighting the infection
If your child or teenager suffers from most of the above symptoms, the doctor will confirm if he or she has a UTI by taking a urine sample for urinalysis. If your child's symptoms and urinalysis show an uncomplicated urinary tract infection, then the doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics.
However, if unusual UTI symptoms occur, such as symptoms that last longer than seven days of UTI in infants, or symptoms of a kidney infection, then the doctor will order a a urine culture to identify what type of bacteria is causing the infection, so that the most effective antibiotic for that bacteria can be used.
He or she may proceed to do other tests to look at the kidneys. Your child will be prescribed antibiotics for seven to 14 days, and the entire course must be completed so that the bacteria can be completely killed.
There are several ways to reduce your child's risk of getting a UTI.
Advise your child to always go to the bathroom as frequently as possible, and to keep the genital area clean and dry after washing up.
For girls, after urination or bowel movement, advise her to wipe from front to back to avoid the spread of germs from the rectal area to the urethra.
For those who are sexually active, be sure to wash the genital area after intercourse in order to remove bacteria.
Advise your child to refrain from holding in urine for long periods of time. He or she should also drink the equivalent of eight glasses of water a day.
Girls should change their tampons or sanitary pads regularly during menstruation. Advise them to avoid prolonged exposure of moisture in the genital area by not wearing wet undergarments, and to limit the use of feminine hygiene sprays as this may irritate the urethra.
Although UTIs are often painful and uncomfortable, they can be easily treated and prevented.
If you suspect that your child may be suffering from a UTI, take him or her to a doctor immediately. In such circumstances, taking swift action is the most important thing to do.