It can be hard to figure out what’s wrong with babies when all they can do to communicate pain is cry. A fussy infant may have any number of health problems, from colds to rashes, but some medical problems are harder to identify than others. For example, many parents may not know that babies can get infections in their urinary tract. In fact, childhood urinary tract infections (UTIs) account for more than 1 million pediatrician visits each year in the US.
UTIs are usually caused by bacteria in the kidneys, ureters (the tubes that carry urine), or bladder. Sometimes the body can rid itself of this bacteria but when it cannot, the bacteria can build up and cause an infection. Bacteria and other infection-causing microbes may enter the urinary tract when an infant has a dirty diaper or when babies are wiped from back to front. Good hydration enabling frequent urination and maintaining proper hygiene can help prevent UTIs.
How Do I Know Whether My Baby has a UTI?
Your infant may have a urinary tract infection if any of the following symptoms exist:
Many times, fever or acting a bit unwell is the only symptom of a UTI in infants.
If you suspect your baby may have a UTI, call a pediatrician. He or she will collect a urine sample from your baby—best if collected by inserting a small catheter into the pee channel (urethra)—and test the urine for bacteria. It can take up to 2 days for the test to let us know if there is an infection. If your baby has an infection, the doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics. If your child is prescribed antibiotics, it is important to give every dose of the medication, even if your child seems better.
Most children will never get a UTI. Of those who do, though, some may also have a problem with their ureters or kidneys, such as a condition called vesicoureteral reflux (VUR)—where urine can flow backwards from the bladder up the ureters to the kidneys (rather than the normal route from the kidneys down the ureters to the bladder). In some children, VUR only causes an occasional UTI, while in others it can cause serious harm to the kidneys from repeated infections, making children very ill.
Several research groups at Nationwide Children's Hospital are studying UTIs in children to better try and treat and even prevent them.
Christina B. Ching, MD is a member of the Section of Pediatric Urology at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Dr. Ching is interested in all aspects of urologic problems in children including urinary tract infections, hydronephrosis, urinary incontinence, hypospadias, kidney stones, ureteral reflux, spina bifida and other complex pelvic and urinary conditions.
Tahagod Mohamed, MD
Tahagod Mohamed, MD, is a pediatric nephrologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. She also serves as the director of Neonatal Nephrology at Nationwide Children's. Dr. Mohamed’s clinical interests include caring for preterm and critically ill neonates with Acute Kidney Injury (AKI).
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