You've Got What?
How infectious diseases are spread and simple and practical advice for preventing the spread of infection in the home and community
Urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection of the urinary system. The normal urinary system consists of:
Infection may occur in the kidneys (pyelonephritis), bladder (cystitis) or urethra (urethritis) or a combination of these.
The most common cause of a urinary tract infection is a bacterium commonly found in the gut called Escherichia coli (E. coli). It is usually spread to the urethra from the anus (back passage).
Urine is normally free from bacteria, however, the normal human body is covered with bacteria and the normal intestine (bowel) contains large numbers of harmless bacteria. The structure of the urinary system prevents urine flowing upwards from the bladder to the kidney, so most urinary tract infections are in the bladder and are not usually serious.
However, if not treated, the infection may travel from the bladder up the ureters to the kidneys and cause a more serious infection which needs prompt medical attention.
Some groups are at increased risk of having urinary tract infections:
Urinary tract infections are very common, particularly in women, babies and the elderly. Around one in two women and one in 20 men will get a UTI in their lifetime.
Common symptoms of a UTI include:
A person with a kidney infection can also experience:
A UTI in a child needs to be investigated as it may indicate a more serious condition.
The most common urinary system condition is vesico-ureteric reflux. This means the valve between the bladder and ureter is not working properly and allows urine to flow back to the kidney, increasing the risk of a kidney infection.
Since this disorder tends to run in families, it is important to screen children as early as possible if a close relative is known to have the problem.
Vesico-ureteric reflux and the associated infections can scar or permanently damage the kidney. It can also lead to:
A doctor may diagnose a UTI based on the symptoms. A simple test in the doctor’s surgery (urine dipstick) can provide evidence to support the diagnosis of a UTI. Sometimes a urine sample is sent to the laboratory for microscopy and culture to identify the specific cause of the infection and to help determine the correct antibiotic for treatment
(time during which an infected person can infect others)
UTIs cannot be passed from person-to-person except for those infections of the urinary tract that are sexually transmitted.
UTIs are usually treated effectively with antibiotics. However, as with any course of antibiotics, it is important to complete the full course prescribed, even if the symptoms have ended.