Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are often thought of in regard to adults, and cases of UTIs in children seem unusual. They are not. The mechanism by which UTIs develop does not discriminate by age, and the same E. Coli bacteria can affect a child just as easily as an adult. However, UTIs affect 2% – 3% of children.
But in the first place, what are Urinary Tract Infections? Can they be treated? If so, then how? What are the causes of these infections? And what are their symptoms? Who are more vulnerable to these infections? Let us learn together. But for your peace of mind, it is important to know that these infections are not serious and can be easily treated.
What are Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)?
The urinary tract is the drainage system of our bodies, whose function is to remove urine. This urine is normally composed of wastes and extra fluid from our bodies. The urinary tract is composed of the following body parts:
- Kidneys – small bean-like organs in the body that part of its functions is to filter blood to remove urine.
- Ureters – two thin tubes on the sides of the bladder connecting it to the kidneys. Their function is to transport urine from each kidney to the bladder.
- Bladder – this is a small, muscular and balloon-shaped organ located in the pelvis whose function is to receive urine from the kidneys and to store it till it is time for elimination. It expands like a balloon as more urine comes into it from the kidney. It also communicates to the brain when it is time to eliminate the urine and excess water from the body. It can hold a capacity of one and a half to two cups.
- Urethra – a thin tube connecting the bladder to the outside of the body, through which urine is eliminated from the body.
Therefore, a urinary tract infection is an infection involving the above body parts. All of the above body parts are vulnerable to UTIs.
Prevention has always been and will remain to be better than cure. And as it is for all infections, we cannot prevent against them if we do not know what their causes are.
Causes for UTIs in Children
UTIs are caused by bacteria both in children and in adults. As it has been mentioned above, the bacteria called E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, is the one that is responsible for most of these infections, accounting for 90% if them. This bacterium is located in the colon and in the anus, and often comes out when one is eliminating solid waste from the anus. The bacteria will cause an infection if it finds its way to the urethra, from where there is a possibility of it travelling even up to the kidneys through the bladder and the ureter. It gets worse as it affects the inner parts. It affects women more easily for the reason that the urethra in women is closer to the anus that it is for men. Therefore, the E, coli bacteria can come into contact easily as it only requires to travel over a short distance to get to the Urethra. Also, the urethra in women is shorter than that in men. Therefore, the girl child is more vulnerable to it. The more the bacteria travels inwards, the more severe the infection will be.
Getting more specific, in children, a urinary tract infection may occur due to the following:
- A soiled (in children – made dirty by defecating in or on it) toilet paper coming into contact with the genitals.
- Particles of poo getting to into the urethra of a child when he or she has soiled their nappies.
Classification of Urinary Tract Infections
The urinary tract infections can be classified into two categories:
- Upper UTI – if the infection is affecting the kidney or the ureters. They form the upper part of the urinary tract.
- Lower UTI – if the infection is affecting the bladder, in which case is called cystitis, and also if it affects the urethra. The two form the lower part of the urinary tract.
Symptoms of a UTI in a child
Unlike adults who can easily describe their problem, children may not have the same luxury. So, as a parent, you may have to rely on observation of subtle signs such as:
- Deliberately holding their pee to avoid the pain or burning sensation experienced by urination
- Poor feeding also to avoid going to the bathroom
- Changes in toilet habits such as an onset of bedwetting
- Abdominal pain either on one side or the lower back
- Unpleasant smelling pee
As the child keeps hiding their symptoms, the UTI keeps developing further, affecting the ureters and eventually the kidney. At this point, the symptoms really become serious:
- Jaundice in young children which involves a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- Blood in urine, which is also foul-smelling
- Fatigue and lethargy, a loss of energy
- Vomiting and nausea
- Fever not gaining weight properly
Diagnosis and treatment
Fortunately, the methods for diagnosing and treating UTIs are pretty much alike in both children and adults. The diagnosis can be drawn immediately from the symptoms described, but a further urine sample can be required to confirm the doctor’s suspicions. Children who are less than 3 months old may need specialized attention from a paediatrician, though.
Treatment, too, is similar in both adults and children, where antibiotics are used to treat the bacterial infection. These antibiotics are often in capsule form, but syrups are also available for the very young children. Most cases of UTIs in children will start to heal in a day or two, after which the symptoms will disappear. However, in severe cases, the child may have to be admitted in order to receive the antibiotics intravenously.
It should not go without mention that little urinary tract infection causing bacteria can be terminated or pushed out while a child is urinating, but larger amounts may only spread well enough to get to the interior, and doing what they do best – to cause infections.
Regardless of how the treatment is done, parents should not be worried because UTIs are rarely serious.
Preventing UTIs in children
- Train your children on proper wiping habits after going to the toilet. This is especially important for girls who should learn to wipe from front to back and not vice versa.
- Hygiene is also very important, and the baby’s diapers should be changed immediately or shortly after the child soils them. This would prevent particles of poo from entering the child’s urethra.
- Make sure the child is well hydrated and goes to the bathroom often. Constipation can put pressure on the bladder and prevent effective emptying of the bladder. Regular emptying of the bladder will also help flush out any bacteria that may be in the urethra early.
- Avoid synthetic underwear which will trap moisture and promote the growth of bacteria. Instead, switch to cotton underwear which allows for free air flow around the genitals.
- Avoid using scented soaps to wash your child because these might alter the bacterial environment that is essential for preventing UTIs.
- UTIs are common among children too.
- In the first few years after birth, boys are more likely to have urinary infections than girls.
- Diagnosis and treatment of UTIs in children is similar to that in adults.