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), bladder or urethra (where urine exits the body). When the body can’t fight the bacteria growth on its own, it 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. Frequent urination, staying hydrated 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:
Fever of 100.4⁰F or higher
Crying during urination
Cloudy, foul smelling and/or bloody urine
Irritability with no clear cause
Refusing to eat
Many times, fever or acting a bit unwell is the only symptom of a UTI in infants. However, some babies do not have any noticeable symptoms.
If you suspect your baby may have a UTI, call a pediatrician. He or she will collect a urine sample from your baby—usually by inserting a small catheter—and test the urine for bacteria. 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 starts to feel 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 back up into the kidneys after it is released into the ureters. In some children, VUR only causes an occasional UTI, while in others it can cause serious harm to the kidneys from chronic infection, making children very ill.
My lab is currently researching how to best prevent UTIs in infants and children with VUR. We want to figure out how to treat kids with urinary tract problems to keep UTIs from making them sick.
Dr. Schwaderer is a pediatric nephrologist (kidney doctor) who studies how the kidneys protect us from infection. He enjoys hiking with his family and stand-up paddle-boarding.
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