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Kidney Infection in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about a kidney infection in my child?

A kidney infection is a type of urinary tract infection (UTI). A kidney infection, or pyelonephritis, is a bacterial infection. The infection usually starts in your child's bladder or urethra and moves into his or her kidney. One or both kidneys may be infected. Kidney infections are more common in children younger than 3 years.

What puts my child at risk for a kidney infection?

  • Past UTI
  • Brother or sister with a UTI
  • Past indwelling urinary catheter
  • Holding urine, unable to relax sphincter (muscle that opens and closes to allow urine to pass)
  • Problems with urine moving backwards in the urinary tract (vesicoureteral reflux)
  • Blocked urinary tract caused by constipation

What signs and symptoms may my child have?

A fever may be the only symptom. Your child may also have any of the following:

  • In newborns:
    • Fever
    • Vomiting
    • Not eating well
    • Irritability
    • Trembling
    • Jaundice (yellow skin or eyes)
    • Foul smelling urine
  • In older children:
    • Bloody or foul smelling urine
    • Vomiting
    • Incontinence
    • Back (flank) or abdominal pain
    • Pain when he or she urinates
    • Urinating a little or not at all
    • Feeling like he or she has to urinate often or urgently

How is a kidney infection diagnosed?

  • Blood and urine test results may show an infection. The tests can also show what bacteria is causing your child's infection.
  • An ultrasound may show if there is a problem with the structure of your child's kidney.
  • A voiding cystourethrography (VCUG) is an imaging test that may show if your child has vesicoureteral reflux.

How is a kidney infection treated?

Your child will be given antibiotics. Your child may be admitted to the hospital if he or she is dehydrated or vomiting. Your child will also be admitted if he or she is younger than 2 months. If your child is admitted, he or she will get antibiotics and fluids through an IV. Your child may need bladder training if he or she is not able to relax the sphincter to urinate. Your child may need surgery if reflux does not get better on its own.

How can I prevent my child from getting a kidney infection?

  • Change your baby's diaper frequently. Bacteria from bowel movements can enter your baby's urinary tract.
  • Have your child empty his or her bladder often. Make sure your child urinates and empties his or her bladder as soon as needed. Teach your child not to hold urine for long periods of time.
  • Encourage your child to drink more liquids. Ask how much liquid your child should drink each day and which liquids are best. Your child may need to drink more liquids than usual to help flush out the bacteria. Do not let your child drink caffeine or citrus juices. These can irritate your child's bladder and increase symptoms. Ask your child's healthcare provider about giving your child cranberry juice. Cranberry juice can interfere with some medicines.
  • Teach your child to wipe from front to back. Your child should wipe from front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement. This will help prevent germs from getting into the urinary tract through the urethra.
  • Treat your child's constipation. This may lower his or her UTI risk. Ask your child's healthcare provider how to treat your child's constipation.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has increased pain in the abdomen, sides, or back.
  • Your child urinates very little or not at all.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever or chills.
  • Your child is vomiting.
  • Your child is not getting better after 1 to 2 days of treatment.
  • Your child's symptoms return.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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