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Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in children

9-minute read

Key facts

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections that are common in the kidney or bladder.
  • In young children, UTIs can be hard to diagnose, mainly because they can’t communicate how they are feeling.
  • It is important to treat UTIs so that they don’t cause a more widespread infection or damage to the kidneys.
  • Your doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics for your child to treat their UTI and prevent complications.
  • Children with a UTI who are very unwell may need to go to hospital for treatment.

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI), is a bacterial infection anywhere in the urinary tract. The infection most often develops in the bladder (cystitis) or kidneys (pyelonephritis).

UTIs are very common in children, and can happen at any age. UTIs are more common in males than females under the age of 12 months, and the risk of developing a UTI is higher in uncircumcised males than in circumcised males.

UTIs can sometimes be hard to diagnose in young children, as they can’t tell you how they feel. It is important to diagnose and treat a UTI quickly to prevent the infection from getting worse. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to complications, such as kidney damage or an infection that spreads to the blood.

What causes UTIs in children?

A UTI is usually caused by bacteria getting into the urinary tract. The bacteria most often come from the bowels (gut), or from faeces (poo). If these bacteria increase in number they can cause a UTI. Sometimes a virus can cause a UTI. Constipation can increase the risk of developing an infection.

Sometimes, UTIs are caused by a condition called urinary reflux. This is when there is a problem with a valve in the bladder, and urine flows back up into the kidneys from the bladder. This means urine stays in your childs body and increases the risk of infection.

At what age can a child get a UTI?

UTIs are common and can develop in children of any age.

What are the symptoms of UTIs in children?

Symptoms of a UTI in a child include:

  • pain or burning when urinating (weeing)
  • pain in the lower part of the stomach or the side of the back
  • feeling a need to urinate often, or asking to use the toilet often
  • passing some urine before getting to the toilet or at night (incontinence)
  • smelly or discoloured urine
  • not eating as much as normal
  • feeling unwell or having a fever

Some children with a UTI may not show any of these symptoms — they may just seem generally unwell. Young children and babies may have a fever and be unsettled and irritable.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How are UTIs diagnosed in children?

To diagnose a UTI, your doctor will ask you to collect a urine sample. Your child’s doctor or nurse will guide you on how to do this.

Once you have the urine sample, it is usually tested by dipping a special paper strip into the urine to look for a colour change that indicates an infection. The doctor will then send the urine sample to a laboratory for it to be checked under a microscope. This helps them know which bacteria are causing the infection, and which antibiotic will be most effective to treat your child’s UTI. It may take up to 48 hours to get a result.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How are UTIs treated in children?

UTIs are treated with antibiotics, and usually come in a liquid form that your child can drink or be given with a syringe. If your child has a more severe UTI your doctor may recommend you take them to hospital so they can have antibiotics straight into a vein through a drip (known as an IV).

You can help your child recover from a UTI by doing the following:

  • Give the antibiotics as your doctor recommended — it is very important to finish the whole course of antibiotics, even if the child seems to be feeling better.
  • Keep them at home from childcare or school, so they can get extra rest.
  • Offer plenty of fluids to drink.

Sometimes your child will need an ultrasound to check for any problems with their bladder or kidneys.

If you are worried about your child’s pain, ask your doctor about pain relief medicnes. It’s important you check the type of medicine and the dose before you give it to your child.

Can cranberry juice help treat my child’s UTI?

There is no scientific proof that cranberry juice is helpful in treating or preventing UTIs in children. Cranberry juice is not recommended as treatment for children with a UTI.

Can UTIs in children be prevented?

There are several things you can do to help prevent your child from developing a UTI:

  • Good personal hygiene can help prevent the spread of bacteria from your child’s gut to the urinary tract. It is important to always wipe bottoms from front to back in females (vagina to bottom).
  • Make sure your child is drinks plenty of water.
  • Encourage your child to go to the toilet regularly.
  • Help your child avoid becoming constipated.

When should I take my child to a doctor?

You should take your child to a doctor if they develop any symptoms of a UTI, such as pain or burning when urinating, needing to urinate more often, smelly or discoloured urine, pain in the lower stomach, fever, or vomiting.

You should also take them to a doctor if they seem generally unwell with a fever, even if they don’t have any other obvious symptoms.

A baby under 3 months old with a fever above 38℃ should go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately.

If your child has been taking antibitoics and they are not getting better, take them back to the doctor for review.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Resources and support

Read more on the Sydney Childrens Hospital Network webpage on urinary tract infection in children.

For more information on UTIs, visit the Kidney Health Australia.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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