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Are UTIs contagious?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Oct 14, 2021.

Official answer


UTIs are not contagious nor sexually transmitted – that is you cannot catch them from another person – but some women do get them frequently and they can occur after sexual activity, when bacteria in the vaginal area get pushed near or into the urethra. In most cases, the sexual partners of a person with a UTI will not need treatment.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can be painful enough to cause a temporary loss of interest in sex. Doctors usually recommend avoiding sex until the infection has cleared up completely. This is because having sex or penetrating the area with fingers, a toy, or a penis while you still have a UTI can irritate the area further and prolong or worsen the infection. The urethral opening of a penis can become irritated from a UTI, too. These symptoms can lead to additional pain and discomfort during sex. Sex is best avoided until your UTI clears up.

You shouldn’t receive oral sex while you have a UTI because having oral sex may spread bacteria from the penis or vagina to the mouth. These bacteria could cause a secondary infection.

Why do girls and women get more frequent UTIs?

Girls and women get UTIs much more frequently than boys and men, because they have a shorter urethra, and the opening lies closer to the rectum and vagina where bacteria are more likely to be.

Some people who get frequent UTIs may have an abnormality in their urinary tract or a problem with how it functions. The most common functional problem of the urinary tract is called vesicoureteral reflux a condition in which some urine flows backward, or refluxes, from the bladder into the ureters and even up to the kidneys.

Bacteria can find their way into the urethra by several ways. During sexual intercourse, the bacteria in the vaginal area may be pushed into the urethra and eventually end up in the bladder, where urine provides a good environment for the bacteria to grow. Bacteria may also be introduced into a girl's bladder by wiping from back to front after a bowel movement, which can contaminate the urethral opening. An increased risk of UTIs has been associated with the use of spermicides (including condoms treated with spermicide) and diaphragms as contraceptives.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may cause UTI-like symptoms, such as pain with urination. If a course of antibiotics does not clear up a UTI, or if you have other symptoms, such as a discolored or smelly discharge from the vagina then see your doctor or a sexual health nurse. If untreated, STDs can lead to serious long-term problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility. STDs are contagious.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

The most common symptoms associated with a UTI include:

  • frequent urination
  • burning or pain during urination
  • feeling like you need to pee but little or no urine actually comes out
  • pain in the lower abdomen or above the pubic bone (in women)
  • a full feeling in the rectum (in men)
  • bloody or foul-smelling urine
  • mild fever
  • fatigue.

More serious symptoms, such as the ones listed below may indicate a kidney infection:

  • abdominal pain
  • chills
  • cloudy or bloody urine
  • high fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain in the back, just above the waist

See your doctor right away if you have any symptoms of a urinary tract infection. If you can't reach your doctor, go to an urgent care center or hospital emergency room.

  • Cunha JP. How Do You Get a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)? Updated 12/10/2020. eMedicineHealth
  • T. Ernesto Figueroa, MD. Urinary Tract Infections
  • The guide to UTIs and Cystitis Ural 2021.

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