What are urinary tract infections? Viruses, fungi, and bacteria will get into your urine, before affecting the bladder. In general, symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTIs) can be quite painful while making urination very difficult. But, are urinary tract infections contagious? This article will answer that question.
Urinary tract infections are among the most common types of infections in the body. In fact, UTIs account for about 8.1 million visits to health care providers every year. UTIs are an especially common and recurrent issue among women. In a year, 10% to 20% of all women will get a bladder infection at least once.
Urinary tract infection symptoms may include:
- Pain or burning from urination
- Frequent urination, or a strong, frequent urge to urinate, yet only small amounts are passed
- Urine that looks cloudy
- Red or bright pink urine (often a sign of blood in urine)
- Strong-smelling pee
- Urinary incontinence
- Pelvic pain in women
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Muscles aches, weakness, and tiredness
- Pain, tenderness, or pressure in the bladder area
- Pain during sex
- When bacteria spreads to the kidneys, symptoms can include fever, chills, back pain, nausea, and vomiting
Want to know how to prevent a UTI? Read on to learn about how UTIs are contagious, the main causes of UTIs, and how to prevent urinary tract infection symptoms.
Are Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Contagious?
Are urinary tract infections contagious? The answer will depend on what microbe infects your urinary tract. Your urinary tract contains the bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys, and each of them can be infected with various microbes—another word for bacteria.
There are different types of urinary tract infections. An infection in the bladder is called cystitis, or a lower urinary tract infection. Cystitis symptoms will include frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, abdominal pain, and pelvic pain.
A urethra infection is called urethritis, and symptoms will include pain in your side and upper back, nausea and vomiting, chills and shaking, and a high fever. Both viruses, like herpes simplex, and bacteria cause urethritis. When bacteria travels to the ureters and infects the kidneys, this is an upper urinary tract infection, or pyelonephritis. Signs of a kidney infection include burning when urinating and discharge.
Urethritis, and lower and upper UTIs are almost never contagious from person to person. However, some people assume there is a connection between a UTI and STD—also called a sexually transmitted disease—which are contagious and transferred during sex.
While UTIs are often not transmitted by sex, you may think they are, especially if you get your UTI after sex. That being said, sexually active women and both men and women who have anal sex are more likely to develop a UTI.
It is also important to note, however, that some STDs mimic the effects of UTIs. At the same time, certain STDs can cause UTIs if the bacteria spread to the urethra rather than the sex organs. For instance, chlamydia can cause UTIs and its symptoms may be hard to differentiate from other kinds of UTIs.
People are unlikely to get a UTI or STD from a toilet seat, since the urethra in women and men wouldn’t touch the seat. Theoretically, however, it is possible to transfer infectious organisms from a toilet seat to the buttock, or a sore or cut on the thigh. From there, the organisms would spread to the genitals or urethra.
When Are Urinary Tract Infections No Longer Contagious?
Again, upper and lower UTIs due to bacteria are not contagious. In general, physicians and clinicians suggest people are free from lower UTIs about three to seven days after antibiotic treatment, and free from upper UTIs after 10 to 14 days after treatment. Some people with kidney infections may also benefit from an initial antibiotic IV dose then followed by an oral round of antibiotics in complicated or more severe cases.
Urinary Tract Infections and Bacteria
Let’s dig a little deeper into the connection between UTIs and bacteria.
Bacteria that live in the bowels are the most common UTI cause. The bacteria will enter the urinary tract, and although the body often rapidly removes them, sometimes they overwhelm the immune system and cause a UTI. Certain bacteria will attach to the urinary tract lining, despite the immune system’s best efforts.
How does the immune system prevent UTIs? The ureters will attach to the bladder, and prevent urine from backing up toward the kidneys. Additionally, urinating will wash bacteria from the body while the prostate gland in men will also produce secretions designed to slow the growth of bacteria.
The most common urinary tract infection bacteria are Escherichia coli (E. coli)—bacteria mostly found around the rectal and vaginal areas, and in the digestive tract. Research shows that E. coli strains cause recurrent UTIs in women one week before a new UTI develops, indicating that the microbes may indeed emerge from intestines. Other data suggests that recurrent UTIs may originate from pathogens that are dormant in the bladder.
Women are thought to get UTIs more often than men likely because women have shorter urethras than men, and the opening is closer to the vagina and rectum—common places to find bacteria.
Bladder Cells Regurgitate Bacteria to Prevent UTIs
One interesting observation is that bladder cells can regurgitate bacteria to prevent UTIs. In a study published in the journal Cell in 2015, Duke Medicine researchers and their colleagues had described how bladder cells can physically eject the UTI-causing bacteria E. coli. The study findings suggest there is potential for bladder cells to help treat recurrent UTIs.
For the study, using UTI mouse models and cultured human bladder cells, the researchers found that the host cells can sense when lysosomes are malfunctioning. The host cells then trigger the lysosome and ejects its content, which includes bacteria.
The bacteria that exit the bladder cells have an encased cell membrane. This is thought to ensure that the bacteria are eliminated during urination while avoiding bacterial reattachment to the bladder wall.
How to Prevent Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)?
Want to know how to prevent a UTI? This section will teach you how to prevent UTI naturally with the following tips:
1. Drink plenty of fluids
Drinking filtered water or other fluids throughout the day will flush bacteria from the body.
2. Wipe properly
After urination, women should wipe from front to back, and this includes after a bowel movement. Wiping front to back will help stop bacteria from spreading from the rectal area to the urethra.
3. Urinate often
Urinate often and when the urge arises to ensure that bacteria doesn’t grow in the urine that is in the bladder. To flush out bacteria that may have entered the urethra, it is also important to urinate shortly after sex.
4. Wear loose-fitting clothing
Wearing loose-fitting clothing and underwear allows air to keep the urethra dry. Nylon, wet swimsuits, or tight jeans can be problematic, since moisture can be trapped and allow bacterial growth.
5. Proper hygiene
Keep the genital area dry and clean. Women should avoid using douches or feminine hygiene sprays since these can irritate the urethra. Women also must change their pads and tampons regularly during their period.
6. Avoid spermicides
Spermicides can increase irritation and bacterial growth. Use lubricated condoms without spermicides since non-lubricated condoms can cause irritation.
7. Use supplements
Supplements often used for UTIs include probiotics, garlic, cranberry juice, vitamin C, and antibacterial essential oils like oregano, myrrh, and clove.
Urinary Tract Infections Are Rarely Contagious
Are urinary tract infections contagious? Most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacterium already present in the individual. However, upper and lower UTIs are almost never contagious. That being said, some STDs like chlamydia can cause urinary tract infection symptoms, and it may be hard to distinguish between a STD and UTI.
Most UTIs are not considered serious, and they can be cured within a few days of being treated. Antibiotics are the most common UTI treatment; however, it can create resistance and increase the risk of recurrent UTIs.
As a result, it is best to learn how to prevent a UTI. Natural UTI treatments include probiotics, cranberry juice, and essential oils. At the same time, drinking plenty of fluids, urinating when you have the urge, and wiping from front to back may also help prevent UTIs.
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