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If a child exhibits a fever, lethargy, vomiting, or crying without a seemingly good reason, get them to a pediatrician. It may be a UTI, and the cure is just a doctor’s visit away.

One of the greatest frustrations in a parent’s life is when their child becomes ill. The parent must figure out the cause of the illness and, of course, fix the problem immediately. After all, the parent is the child’s first hero. Even an infant will cling to their mom or dad seeking aid from pain. Their tears break a parent’s heart, especially when the child is too young to tell them where it hurts. Even worse, the symptoms of the illness may be confusing, vague, or absent entirely.

Luckily, through experience, most parents can recognize a cold, the flu, colic, or a simple stomach bug. A urinary tract infection may be more difficult to diagnose, but there are signs, even in an infant. Because some of the signs aren’t obvious, a UTI can go untreated for too long — which can worsen the infection.

Symptoms of UTI in children

  • The first sign a parent sees may be fever. This symptom is vague. Any illness could be the culprit.
  • Infants may appear jaundiced. Their fever may be higher than older children. They may cry endlessly but refuse the bottle or breast.
  • A child who has been potty trained may suddenly start having accidents; wetting the bed or underwear.
  • There may be vomiting or refusing to eat.
  • A child may appear irritable without there seeming to be a real explanation, especially an infant who cannot speak for itself.
  • Severe tiredness.
  • Waking several times a night to go potty.
  • Complaints of “belly pain”.
  • Older, verbal children can express adult-like symptoms; burning while urinating, abdominal or back pain, frequent desire to urinate, or cloudy urine.

Causes and risks of urinary tract infections in children

Eighty-five percent of the time, a UTI in children is caused by the same bacteria as in adults, E coli. However, in three to 15 percent of them the cause may be a defect or malformation somewhere in the urinary tract.

Some studies show that approximately eight percent of girls and two percent of boys will have a UTI before they reach the age of seven. Knowing the child is at risk can aid in an early prognosis and immediate treatment.

The risks are:

  • A kidney that is malformed or a blockage in the urinary tract.
  • Poor toilet habits, especially in children who have just learned to go potty all by themselves. Adults should supervise until they get the hang of it. Infants’ diapers should be changed frequently.
  • A family history of urinary tract infections or malformations in the urinary tract
  • Vesicoureteral reflux; a backward flow of their urine which follows the ureters into the kidneys. It is possible for a child to outgrow this condition. In fact, most children do. However, there may be the need for medication or even surgery if they don’t. Failure to resolve the matter can lead to kidney damage or kidney failure later in life.

Testing for UTIs in children

Adults can simply urinate in a cup and be diagnosed in minutes with a UTI. It’s a little more difficult in children, especially the tiniest of them.

Infants and toddlers still in diapers can wear a plastic bag over their genitals until they urinate. This can prove to be messy at times if the bag leaks. The doctor can extract a urine sample directly from the bladder using a needle. Most often, the preferred method is the use of a catheter to get a clean sample of the urine.

Older children may be able to urinate in a cup, just as an adult does. If necessary, an adult can supervise the process to make sure there is a clean sample provided.

Whatever method is used to get the urine sample, the same tests will be performed. A urinalysis will test for germs, pus, or blood in the urine. A culture will be taken to the lab and allowed to grow for several days. This process will determine the kind of bacteria at fault and give the pediatrician an idea of which antibiotic is necessary to clear the infection.

If the pediatrician suspects there is an underlying problem that has caused the UTI, or the child has several urinary tract infections in a short period of time, more invasive testing may be called for. This may include one or more of the following:

  • Ultrasound – sending sound waves into the urinary tract to search for blockages
  • Voiding cystourethrogram – the doctor inserts fluid into the bladder using a tube to seek out issues in the urethra or bladder during urination
  • Nuclear scan – liquids containing small amounts of radioactive material are introduced to the kidneys in order to view how they work
  • CT – a form of x-ray that gives detailed pictures of the kidneys and bladder
  • MRI – uses magnets and radio waves to get pictures

Treatment for UTIs in children

Antibiotics are the first and foremost form of treatment for urinary tract infections whether for an adult or child.  In children, the treatment will last from seven to fourteen days. All the medication must be taken to ensure that the UTI is completely cured, and to help keep it from recurring.

Once the antibiotics are all finished, the pediatrician may repeat the urinalysis to make certain the infection has completely been eradicated.

On some occasions, a hospital stay is appropriate. This happens when there is an extremely high fever present, the child is younger than six months old, the bacteria have reached the blood, or the child is too dehydrated and unable to take fluid or medication by mouth.

How can I prevent a UTI in my child?

If the child is school age, then they may be able to cooperate in the prevention of UTIs. They can learn to drink plenty of fluids, mostly water, and avoid too many sugary or caffeine filled options like soda, tea, and Kool-Aid. They can be taught proper hygiene methods such as wiping from front to back, wearing cotton underwear, not holding in their urine too long, and avoiding bubble baths and perfumed or strong soaps.

In the little ones’ case, it is up to the parents to take precautions against a UTI. Infants require frequent diaper changes, making certain to clean all areas of the anatomy thoroughly. As toddlers are potty trained, they can be taught to wipe from front to back, wash themselves if necessary, and hurry to the potty at the first sign they need to urinate.


Though it is difficult at best to read a child’s mind, or the clues they give a parent when they are ill, it is a parent’s desire to keep them from suffering pain. If a child exhibits a fever, lethargy, vomiting, or crying without a seemingly good reason, get them to a pediatrician. It may be a UTI, and the cure is just a doctor’s visit away.  

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