Urinary Tract Infections in Children

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are commonly seen in children. Urinary tract infections may present as cystitis, pyelonephritis, or asymptomatic bacteriuria, and their clinical presentation may vary widely depending on the age of the patient. Fecal E. coli is the most common pathogen. Routes of infection may be ascending (most common) or hematogenous. Urinary tract infection is suspected based on lower UTI symptoms (dysuria, frequency) or upper UTI symptoms (fever) and positive urinalysis findings. Urine culture confirms the diagnosis. Most cases respond to oral antibiotics. Further investigation through imaging and, at times, hospital admission is required in refractory or recurrent cases.

Last update:

Table of Contents

Share this concept:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

Definition and Classification


A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection (most commonly bacterial, but, rarely, also viral and fungal) of any part of the urinary system, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, or kidneys.


  • Pyelonephritis (upper UTI): infection involving the ureters and kidneys 
  • Cystitis (lower UTI): infection of the urinary bladder without renal involvement
  • Asymptomatic bacteriuria: positive urine culture without symptoms

Epidemiology and Risk Factors


Prevalence of UTI: 

  • Age dependent: Infants (boys < 1; girls < 4) have a higher prevalence of UTI than older children.
  • Gender dependent: Male:female ratio is 1:2 in the 1st year, increases to 1:10 beyond 1–2 years.
  • Anatomy dependent: Prevalence is 8 times lower in circumcised boys than in uncircumcised boys.
  • Ethnicity dependent: White children have a higher prevalence than Black children.

Risk factors

  • Acquired:
    • Recent antibiotic therapy
    • Sexual activity 
    • Bowel dysfunction (pediatric constipation)
    • Indwelling catheter
    • Immunosuppression
  • Innate:
    • Urinary tract structural anomalies leading to obstruction 
    • Dysfunctional voiding (neurogenic bladder)
    • Genetics (children with 1st-degree relatives with a history of pediatric UTI are more likely to have UTI)

Etiology and Pathophysiology


  • Bacterial:
    • Escherichia coli (75%90%)
    • Klebsiella
    • Proteus 
    • Enterococcus faecalis 
    • Staphylococcus saprophyticus
    • Group B streptococcus (neonates)
    • Pseudomonas
  • Fungal (especially with instrumentation):
    • Candida spp
    • Asperigillus spp
    • Cryptococcus neoformans
  • Viral: adenovirus and other viruses (seen in cystitis with gross hematuria)


Normal urinary tract anatomy and/or urinary dynamics:

  • Ascending infection
    • Uropathogens (most commonly fecal flora) colonize periurethral area → ascend to bladder via urethra 
    • If pathogen reaches kidney via ureter → pyelonephritis or upper UTI 
    • Infection may occasionally enter blood → septicemia
  • Hematogenous infection
    • Septicemia → UTI
    • Rarely seen, usually in immunocompromised patients

Abnormal urinary tract anatomy and/or urinary dynamics:

  • Stagnation of urine leads to pathogen growth and UTIs
    • Anatomical abnormalities leading to obstruction (ureteropelvic junction obstruction, posterior urethral valves)
    • Neurological abnormalities leading to delay in emptying
  • Vesicoureteral reflux (VUR): retrograde flow of urine from the bladder along the ureters
    • Common and important cause of febrile UTI leading to pyelonephritis in children
    • Has multiple etiologies
    • Leads to renal scarring if not treated
Ascending and hematogenous UTI

Ascending and hematogenous UTI

Image by Lecturio.

Clinical Presentation

Infants and young children

  • Non-specific symptoms: 
    • Fever (may be the sole symptom, especially fever > 39℃ (101.2°F))
    • Irritability
    • Poor feeding
    • Jaundice
    • Weight loss
  • Changes in urinary habits: 
    • Holding urine due to painful urination
    • New incontinence

Older (school-age and up) children

Presentation is similar to adults and clinical symptoms can be used to distinguish upper from lower UTI.

  • Pyelonephritis: 
    • Fever 
    • Pain (abdominal, back, or flank)
    • Malaise
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Diarrhea (occasionally)
  • Cystitis:
    • Dysuria
    • Urgency
    • Frequency
    • Suprapubic pain and tenderness
    • Incontinence
    • Malodorous urine
    • Hematuria (caused by E. coli or adenovirus)

Workup and Diagnosis

Clinical suspicion based on age-appropriate symptomatology or urinalysis findings must be confirmed by urine culture.

Obtaining a urine sample

  • Who to obtain a sample from:
    • Children 02 months: all febrile infants
    • Children 224 months: Decision is case dependent, based on height of fever and risk factors.
    • Older children: only if symptoms are suggestive of UTI
  • How to obtain a sample:
    • Obtaining sterile urine is key to valid urinalysis results, but challenging with young children.
    • Toilet-trained children: Attempt clean catch (take care to avoid  contamination with skin flora). 
    • Children 224 months without toilet training: 
      • Place a bag over genital area (bag sample).
      • Catheterization or suprapubic aspiration may be necessary.

Urinalysis features

  • Urinalysis results may suggest UTI but are not diagnostic alone.
  • Negative results in the presence of symptoms do not rule out UTI.
  • Nitrites and leukocyte esterase usually positive with UTI 
  • Pyuria (leukocytes in urine): 
    • May be absent in UTI
    • Sterile pyuria (positive leukocytes and negative culture) may be caused by:
      • Prior antibiotic therapy
      • Viral infections, tuberculosis, renal abscess
      • Urinary tract obstruction
      • Inflammation outside the urinary tract 
      • Interstitial nephritis
  • Hematuria (increased RBCs) may be seen.

Urine culture

  • Urinalyses suggestive of UTI must be confirmed by urine culture.
  • Isolation of a single pathogen with one of the following criteria is diagnostic of UTI:
    • Colony count > 10,000 in a symptomatic child
    • Colony count > 50,000 from a suprapubic/catheter-obtained specimen 
    • Colony count > 100,000 from a urine bag
  • Isolation of Lactobacillus spp., coagulase-negative staphylococci, and Corynebacterium spp. are not suggestive of UTI as these are normal skin flora.

Blood culture

When to perform:

  • Very young children (< 2 months) who are at high risk for sepsis
  • In suspected pyelonephritis before antibiotic therapy


Urinary tract infections in children may be indicative of underlying renal anatomical abnormalities, so some must be further investigated with imaging.

  • Renal and bladder ultrasound (RBUS) should be performed: 
    • After 1st febrile UTI in all children 224 months
    • In all children with recurrent cases of UTI
    • After acute phase of illness; immediately with severe illness 
  • Voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG): Dye visible on X-ray is injected into the bladder and urine flow is visualized during voiding.
    • Goal is to confirm presence of vesicoureteral reflux (VUR). 
    • Performed if: 
      • Ultrasound findings suggestive of high-grade (III and above) VUR (majority of grade I or II VURs resolve spontaneously)
      • Evidence of obstruction, such as hydronephrosis or scarring
      • Recurrent febrile UTI
  • Late dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) scan: no longer recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics
Vesicoureteric reflux

Bilateral dilatation of the ureters due to vesicoureteric reflux in a pediatric patient

Image: “Ultrasonography of the Kidney” by Department of Radiology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Blegdamsvej 9, Copenhagen 2100-DK, Denmark. License: CC BY 4.0

Management and Follow-up


The main goal of treatment is prevention of renal complications, such as renal scarring, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease.

  • Empiric antibiotic therapy:
    • Early initiation (within 72 hours) prevents renal scarring.
    • Should only be started after urine samples for testing have been collected
    • Should only be started for patients with high likelihood of UTI:
      • Fever > 39℃ (101.2)
      • Known immune deficiency or renal anomaly
      • Septic appearance
  • Antibiotic choice:
    • Should be tailored to bacterial species and sensitivity whenever possible
    • Aimed at treating the most likely causative pathogen (E. coli)
      • High kidney involvement risk → 2nd- or 3rd-generation cephalosporin
      • Low kidney involvement risk → 1st-generation cephalosporin


  • Admit to hospital if:
    • Septic
    • Dehydrated
    • Nauseous & vomiting
    • < 1 month with suspected UTI
    • < 2 months with febrile UTI
    • Complicated infection (stones, obstruction, anomalies)
  • 714 days of broad-spectrum antibiotics:
    • Outpatient: oral 3rd-generation cephalosporins (cefixime)
    • Inpatient: IV ceftriaxone, cefotaxime, or ampicillin with an aminoglycoside (gentamicin)
  • Fluoroquinolones are effective antibiotics, but are best avoided in patients < 17 years of age.
  • Urine culture: 1 week after completion of antibiotics to confirm treatment
  • Renal abscess, perirenal abscess, or urinary tract obstruction: surgical or percutaneous drainage + antibiotics


  • Children with history of only one uncomplicated UTI do not need follow-up.
  • Nephrologist follow-up is recommended for children with:
    • Recurrent UTI
    • Severe VUR (grade III to V)
    • Anatomical renal abnormalities
    • Neurological disfunction of the bladder
    • High blood pressure
  • Antibiotic prophylaxis
    • Controversial
    • Still recommended for children with VUR grade III to V
Grades of vesicoureteral reflux

Grades of VUR: A megaureter can be seen with grade 5 VUR.

Image by Lecturio.


  1. Millner, R., M.D., & Becknell, Brian,M.D., PhD. (2019). Urinary tract infections. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 66(1), 1-13. doi://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2018.08.002
  2. Jerardi, K. E., & Jackson, E. C. (2020). Urinary tract infections. In R. M. Kliegman MD, J. W. St Geme MD, N. J. Blum MD, Shah, Samir S., MD,MSCE, Tasker, Robert C., MBBS,MD & Wilson, Karen M., MD,MPH (Eds.), Nelson textbook of pediatrics (pp. 278-2795.e1) https://www.clinicalkey.es/#!/content/3-s2.0-B9780323529501005538
  3. Gupta, K., & Trautner, B. W. (2018). Urinary tract infections, pyelonephritis, and prostatitis. In J. L. Jameson et al. (Eds.), Harrison’s principles of internal medicine. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?aid=1159153646
  4. Robinson J. Antibiotic prophylaxis in vesicoureteral reflux: A practice revisited. Can Pharm J (Ott). 2013;146(2):84-87. doi:10.1177/1715163513481570

Study on the Go

Lecturio Medical complements your studies with evidence-based learning strategies, video lectures, quiz questions, and more – all combined in one easy-to-use resource.

Learn even more with Lecturio:

Complement your med school studies with Lecturio’s all-in-one study companion, delivered with evidence-based learning strategies.

🍪 Lecturio is using cookies to improve your user experience. By continuing use of our service you agree upon our Data Privacy Statement.