A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection caused by bacteria (germs) getting into the urinary tract. The urinary tract is a term for those parts of the body involved in making and passing urine, which include the kidneys, bladder, ureters (tubes which connect the kidneys and bladder) and the urethra (tube through which the urine exits the body).
Urinary tract infections in children are fairly common and can affect the lower tract (bladder) or the upper tract (kidney). By 5 years old, about 8% of girls and 1-2% of boys have had at least one UTI.
What are the causes and signs of UTIs?
Some causes of UTIs in children include poor toilet and hygiene habits (not wiping from front to back or cleaning the bottom area thoroughly), the use of bubble baths or strongly scented soaps that can irritate the urethra and lead to holding onto urine, a family history of UTIs, or vesicoureteral reflux (VUR) when urine flows backwards from the bladder to the ureters and kidneys.
In older children, UTIs may cause obvious complaints such as burning or pain with urination (peeing) but UTIs may be harder to detect in infants and young children because symptoms are less specific.
Be sure to contact your doctor if your child has any of these symptoms:
persistent fever of unknown cause [100.4° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) rectally in infants, or over 101° Fahrenheit (38.3° Celsius) in children]
burning or pain when urinating
frequent or urgent urination, and frequent urination at night
strong-smelling, cloudy or bloody urine
abdominal (especially below the navel), back or side pain
Sometimes, a fever is the only sign of a UTI.
How are UTIs treated?
After performing a physical exam and asking about symptoms, your child’s primary care doctor will take a urine sample to check for and identify bacteria causing the infection.
If your child has a UTI, the infection will usually be treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Your doctor may refer your child for additional tests and an appointment with our Nemours pediatric urologists who specialize in treating both simple and complex urologic problems in children.
A urine dipstick test is often done as part of an overall urinalysis, but it can also be done on its own, depending on the doctor's concerns. Once a urine sample is collected, a nurse or technician will place a specially treated chemical strip (dipstick) into your child's urine. Patches on the dipstick will change color to indicate the presence of such things as white blood cells, protein, or glucose.
Why It's Done
The results of a urine dipstick test may point to a diagnosis of urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney disease, diabetes, or a urinary tract injury. If test results are abnormal, other tests will be needed before a definite diagnosis can be made.
No preparation other than cleansing the area around the urinary opening is required for the urine dipstick test.
Your child will be asked to urinate into a clean sample cup in the doctor's office. If your child isn't potty trained and can't urinate into a cup, a catheter (a narrow, soft tube) may need to be inserted into the bladder to obtain the urine specimen.
The skin surrounding the urinary opening has to be cleaned and rinsed just before the urine is collected. In this "clean-catch" method, you or your child cleans the skin around the urinary opening with a special towelette. The child then urinates, stops momentarily, and then urinates again into the collection container. Catching the urine in "midstream" is the goal. Be sure to wash your hands and your child's hands after this process.
Once collected, the technician or nurse will then place the dipstick into the urine sample. Collecting the specimen should only take a few minutes.
What to Expect
Because the test involves normal urination; there shouldn't be any discomfort as long as your child can provide a urine specimen. It's important to keep the area around the urinary opening clean before the test and to catch the urine sample midstream.
Getting the Results
The results of the urine dipstick test will be available right away. If abnormalities are found, further urine tests will be needed. Talk to your child's doctor about the meaning of the specific test results.
No risks are associated with taking a urine dipstick test. If a catheterized specimen is required it may cause temporary discomfort and you can discuss any questions you have about this procedure with your healthcare provider.
Helping Your Child
The urine dipstick test is painless. Explaining how the test will be conducted, and why it's being done, can help ease your child's fear. Make sure your child understands that the urinary opening must be clean and the urine must be collected midstream.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the urine dipstick test, speak with your doctor.