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The Right Treatment for UTIs

Urinary tract infection (UTI) equals antibiotics, right? Not when it comes to preventing recurrent ones, according to a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

When a child has a UTI, doctors often check for vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), a condition that causes urine to flow backward -- and which is a factor in more than a third of childhood UTIs. If a child does have VUR, doctors routinely have been recommending long-term, low-dose antibiotics to ward off future infections. Experts now say that this treatment is ineffective and can even increase the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Kids with recurrent UTIs caused by VUR or other factors (like constipation, genetics, or simply holding pee in) may not need long-term meds. Another option is to watch for symptoms, get a urine test, and then, if it's positive, treat the UTI with a short (seven- to ten-day) course of antibiotics.

What should you do if your child is found to have VUR? Ask for a urologist to take over the case. If the condition isn't serious, the urologist may take a wait-and-see approach to treatment.

Best prevention

UTIs may seem like a grown-up thing, but they're one of the most common infections in kids under 6. Tips to prevent them, from Patrick Conway, M.D., pediatrician at Cincinnati Children's Hospital:

  • Wipe your child from front to back and teach her to do the same. (Girls and uncircumcised baby boys are at higher risk and need to be extra careful.)

  • Limit caffeinated and sugary drinks, which are linked to UTIs, and offer more water.

How to spot them:

  • Older kids will tell you: "Mommy, it hurts when I pee."

  • For younger children, look out for fever, vomiting, and irritability.