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A urinary tract infection (UTI) in children is a fairly common condition. According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearing House (NKUDIC), approximately three percent of children in the United States get a UTI each year (NKUDIC, 2011).
Normally, germs that enter the urethra are promptly flushed out through urination. However, when bacteria are not expelled this way, they may grow within the urinary tract, causing an infection. The urinary tract consists of the parts of the body that are involved in urine production. They are:
Your child can develop a UTI when bacteria enter the urinary tract and travel up the urethra and into the body. The two types of UTIs most likely to affect children are bladder infections and kidney infections. When a UTI affects the bladder, it is called cystitis. When the infection travels from the bladder to the kidneys, it is called pyelonephritis. Both can be successfully treated with antibiotics; however a kidney infection can lead to more serious health complications if left untreated.
UTIs may be caused by a variety of germs, but are most commonly caused by bacteria, which may enter the urinary tract from the skin around the anus or the vagina. The most common cause of UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which originates in the intestines. Most UTIs are caused when this type of bacteria spread from the anus to the urethra.
UTIs occur more often in girls, especially when toilet training begins. Girls are more susceptible because their urethra is shorter and closer to the anus. This makes it easier for the bacteria to enter the urethra. Uncircumcised boys under one year also have a slightly higher risk of UTI. The overall risk of your child developing a UTI during childhood is two percent for boys and eight percent for girls (NKUDIC, 2011).
The urethra does not normally harbor germs, but certain circumstances can make it easier for bacteria to enter or remain in your child’s urinary tract. The following factors can put your child at a higher risk for a UTI:
Symptoms of a UTI can vary depending on the degree of infection and your child’s age. Infants and very young children may not experience any symptoms. When they do occur in younger children, symptoms can be very general. They may include:
Additional symptoms vary depending on the part of the urinary tract that is infected. If your child has a bladder infection, symptoms include:
If the infection has traveled to the kidneys, the condition is more serious. Your child may experience more intense symptoms, such as:
The initial signs of a UTI in children can be easily overlooked. Younger children may have a difficult time describing the source of their distress. If your child looks sick and has a high fever without a runny nose, earache, or other obvious reasons for illness, consult your physician to determine if your child has a UTI.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment of a UTI in your child can prevent serious, long-term medical complications. Untreated, a UTI can result in a kidney infection that may lead to more serious conditions such as:
Contact your physician immediately if your child has symptoms related to a UTI. A urine sample is required for accurate diagnosis. The sample may be used for:
Collecting a clean urine sample can be a challenge for children who are not toilet trained. A usable sample can’t be obtained from a wet diaper. Your physician may use one of the following techniques to get your child’s urine sample:
Your physician may recommend additional diagnostic tests to determine whether the source of the UTI is an abnormality of your child’s urinary tract. If your child has a kidney infection, tests also may be required to look for kidney damage. The following imaging tests may be used:
The tests may be done while your child has the infection. Often, they are done weeks or months after treatment to determine if there is any residual damage.
Your child’s UTI will require prompt antibiotic treatment to prevent kidney damage. The type of bacteria causing your child’s UTI and the severity of your child’s infection will determine the type of antibiotic used and the length of treatment.
The most common antibiotics used for treatment of UTIs in children are:
If your child has a UTI that is diagnosed as a simple bladder infection, it is likely that treatment will consist of oral antibiotics at home. However, more severe infections may require hospitalization and intravenous (IV) fluids or antibiotics.
If your child has a UTI, hospitalization is often necessary in cases where:
Pain medication to alleviate severe discomfort during urination also may be prescribed.
If your child is receiving antibiotic treatment at home, you can help to ensure a positive outcome by:
During your child’s treatment, contact your physician if symptoms persist or worsen, or if your child has a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius), or 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) for infants. You should also seek medical advice if your child develops new symptoms of pain or changes in urine output.
With prompt diagnosis and treatment, you can expect your child to fully recover from a UTI. However, some children may require treatment for periods lasting from six months up to two years.
Long-term antibiotic treatment is more likely if your child is diagnosed with vesicoureteral reflex, or VUR, a birth defect that results in the abnormal backward flow of urine from the bladder up the ureters, moving urine toward the kidneys instead of out the urethra. According to KidsHealth.org, this disorder is found in 30 to 50 percent of children with a UTI (KidsHealth, 2012). VUR can cause chronic UTIs in children, which create an increased risk of kidney damage and ultimately, kidney failure. Surgery is an option used in severe cases. Typically, children with VUR outgrow the condition, though kidney damage or kidney failure may occur into adulthood.
You can help prevent the possibility of your child developing a UTI with proven techniques such as the following:
If your child gets repeated UTIs, your physician may advise preventive antibiotics. Be sure to follow instructions for continuing therapy even if your child does not have symptoms of a UTI.
Written by: Anna Giorgi
Published on: Sep 19, 2012on: Jan 06, 2012
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