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Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections, Frequently Asked Questions

It is the goal of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughter’s Health System (CHKDHS) to provide the best possible care for your family. Please read this information to learn about how you can help us prevent infections.

What is catheter-associated urinary tract infection?

A urinary tract infection (also called “UTI”) is an infection in the urinary system, which includes the bladder and the kidneys. The bladder stores the urine and the kidneys filter the blood to make urine. Germs (for example, bacteria and yeasts) do not normally live in these areas; but if germs are introduced, an infection can occur.

Germs can travel along urinary catheters and cause infections in the bladder that sometimes extends to the kidney. When this happens, it is called a “catheter-associated urinary tract infection (or “CA-UTI”).

What is a urinary catheter?

A urinary catheter is a thin tube placed in the bladder to drain urine. Urine drains through the tube into a bag that collects the urine. A urinary catheter may be used:

  • If your child is not able to urinate on his/her own
  • To measure the amount of urine that your child makes
  • During and after some types of surgery
  • During some tests of the kidneys and bladder

People with urinary catheters have a much higher chance of getting a urinary tract infection than people who do not have a catheter.

How does a patient get a catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CA-UTI)?

If germs enter the urinary tract, they may cause an infection. Many of the germs that cause a catheter-associated urinary tract infection are common germs found in the intestines that do not usually cause an infection there. Germs can enter the urinary tract when the catheter is being put in or while the catheter remains in the bladder.

What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?

Some of the common symptoms of a urinary tract infection are:

  • Burning or pain in the lower abdomen (that is, below the stomach)
  • Fever
  • Bloody urine may be a sign of infection, but it is also caused by other problems
  • Burning during urination or an increase in the frequency of urination after the catheter is removed.

Sometimes people with catheter-associated urinary tract infections do not have these symptoms of infection.

Can catheter-associated urinary tract infections be treated?

Yes, most catheter-associated urinary tract infections can be treated with antibiotics and removal or change of the catheter. Your child’s doctor will determine which antibiotic is best for him/her.

What are some of the things that CHKDHS is doing to prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections?

To prevent urinary tract infections, doctors and nurses take the following actions:

Catheter insertion
  • Catheters are only put in when necessary and are removed as soon as possible.
  • Only properly trained persons insert catheters using sterile (“clean”) technique.
  • The skin in the area where the catheter will be inserted is cleaned before inserting the catheter.
  • Other methods to drain the urine are sometimes used, such as:
    • External catheters for males (these look like condoms and are placed over the penis rather than into the penis)
    • Urine collection bags for infants (short-term use when sterile collection is not required) These bags fit over the infant’s genitals and are secured with adhesive flaps, which may irritate the skin.
    • Putting a temporary catheter in to drain the urine and removing it right away. This is called intermittent urethral catheterization.
Cather care
  • Healthcare providers clean their hands by washing them with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub before and after touching your child’s catheter. If you do not see your child's healthcare providers clean their hands, please ask them to do so.
  • Avoid disconnecting the catheter and the drain tube. This helps to prevent germs from getting into the catheter tube.
  • The catheter is secured to the leg to prevent pulling on the catheter.
  • Avoid twisting or kinking the catheter.
  • Keep the bag lower than the bladder to prevent urine from back flowing to the bladder.
  • Empty the bag regularly. The drainage spout should not touch anything while emptying the bag.

What can I do to help prevent catheter-associated urinary tract infections if my child has a catheter?

  • Always clean your hands before and after doing catheter care.
  • Always keep your child’s urine bag below the level of his/her bladder. The urine bag should hang below the level of your child’s mattress or chair seat, but it should not be near the floor.
  • Tell your child not to tug or pull on the tubing.
  • Check for twisting or kinking of the catheter tubing.
  • Ask your healthcare provider each day if your child still needs the catheter.

What do I need to know when my child goes home from the hospital?

  • If your child will be going home with a catheter, his/her doctor or nurse should explain everything you need to know about taking care of the catheter. Make sure you understand how to care for it before your child leaves the hospital.
  • If your child develops the symptoms of a urinary tract infection, such as burning or pain in the lower abdomen, fever, or an increase in the frequency of urination, call his/her doctor or nurse immediately.
  • Before your child goes home, make sure you know who to contact if you have questions or problems after you get home.
  • If you have additional questions, please ask your child’s doctor or nurse.
This material was adapted from information co-sponsored by: SHEA (The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America); IDSA (Infectious Disease Society of America; APIC (Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology) CDC (Center for Disease Control) and The Joint Commission.  2009

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 04/2009