Hesperian Health Guides

Infections of the Urine System

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 23: Problems of the Urine System > Infections of the Urine System

There are 2 main kinds of urine system infections. A bladder infection is the most common and the easiest to treat. A kidney infection is very serious. It can lead to permanent damage to the kidney and even death.

What causes bladder and kidney infections?

WWHND10 Ch23 Page 366-1.png
A girl or woman of
any age — even a
small baby — can get
an infection of her
urine system.

Infections of the urine system are caused by germs (bacteria). They get into the body from the outside through the urinary opening near the vagina. Infection is more common in women than in men because a woman’s lower urine tube is short. Germs climb more easily up the short tube into the bladder.

Germs enter a woman’s body or multiply when she:

a woman thinking while she sits with others in the back of a truck
I hope the truck stops soon so I can pass urine.
  • has sex. During sex, germs from the vagina and anus can be pushed up through the urinary opening into the lower urine tube. This is one of the most common causes of a bladder infection in women. To prevent infection, pass urine after having sex. This washes out the urine tube (but does not prevent pregnancy).
  • does not drink enough, especially if she works outside in hot weather and sweats a lot. Germs will start to multiply in the empty bladder. Try to drink at least 8 glasses or cups (2 liters) of liquid a day. When working in the hot sun or in a hot room, drink even more.
  • goes for a long time without urinating (for example, when traveling or working). Not urinating allows germs in the urine system to multiply which can cause an infection. Try to pass urine every 3 to 4 hours.

Teach little girls the correct way to wipe after passing stool.

  • does not keep her genitals clean. Germs from the genitals—and especially the anus—can get into the urinary opening and cause infection. Try to wash the genitals every day, and always wipe from front to back after passing stool. Wiping forward can spread germs from the anus into the urinary opening. Also, try to wash your genitals before having sex. Keep the cloth and pads used for your monthly bleeding very clean between uses.

a woman riding a hand-cycle; she has a crutch with her

Treatment for a bladder infection:
a woman drinking from a large glass of water

Bladder infections can often be treated with home remedies. Start treatment as soon as you notice the signs. A bladder infection can sometimes travel quickly up the urine tubes into the kidneys.

  • Drink a lot of water. Try to drink at least one cup of clean water every 30 minutes. This will make you pass urine often. Sometimes the germs will wash out of your urine system before the infection gets worse.
a steaming cup next to some plants
  • Stop having sex for a few days, or until the signs have gone away.
  • Make a tea from flowers, seeds, and leaves that are known to help cure urine infections.

STIs, especially chlamydia, can cause a burning feeling when a woman passes urine.

If you do not feel better in 1 to 2 days, stop taking the home remedies and start taking the medicines in the box below. If you do not feel better in 2 more days, see a health worker. You may have an STI rather than a urine system infection.

IMPORTANT! Before taking any of these medicines, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, first read about them in the “Green Pages” of this book.

Bladder Infection Medicines
Medicine How much to take When and how to take
cotrimoxazole (160 mg trimethoprim and 800 mg sulfamethoxazole) 2 tablets of 480 mg by mouth, 2 times a day
for 3 days
or nitrofurantoin 100 mg by mouth, 2 times a day
for 5 days
If you do not start to feel better in 2 days (48 hours), there may be a resistance to these medicines in your area.
If possible, check with a health worker, or take instead the medicines cefixime or cephalexin.

a bottle of pills
Treatment for a kidney infection:

If you have signs of a kidney infection, home remedies are not enough. Start taking these medicines right away. But if you do not start to feel better after 2 days, see a health worker.

Kidney Infection Medicines
Medicine How much to take When and how to take
ciprofloxacin 500 mg by mouth, 2 times a day
for 10 days
or cotrimoxazole
(160 mg trimethoprim and 800 mg sulfamethoxazole)
2 tablets of 480 mg by mouth, 2 times a day
for 10 days
If you cannot swallow medicines because you are vomiting, take:
ceftriaxone 1 gram (1000 mg) IV or IM, once a day
or gentamicin 80 mg the first
time only,
IV or IM,
then 60 mg each
other time
3 times a day
When you can swallow medicine again without vomiting, stop injections and continue with the medicine by mouth for kidney infection, until you have taken medicine for a total of 10 days.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019