Are UTIs Contagious?

5109
Jessica Guht
Categorized as UTI

According to research, 11% of the overall population is likely to experience at least one UTI in their lives. As such a prevalent infection, it begs the question: are UTIs contagious? Let’s find out: 

Is a UTI contagious?

A UTI is an infection in your urinary tract – this includes your urethra, bladder, and kidneys. The infections develop as bacteria make their way through this part of your body, triggering a range of symptoms and complications. To understand if a UTI is contagious, we must first consider what causes them. 

Studies suggest that the majority of UTIs are caused by the bacteria escherichia coli – or E coli for short. The thing is, this bacteria is naturally found within the body and is often harmless. There are different strains – such as E coli O157:H7, which most people know as the bacteria that causes severe stomach cramps and other bad symptoms. But, that particular strain is usually ingested through bad food products. Regular E coli is simply found within your intestines and is one of the many bacteria in your digestive system. 

So, how does this bacteria cause a UTI? Well, it happens when it finds its way from your digestive system to your urinary tract. Commonly, it transfers from the anus to the urethral opening. Many women suffer from UTIs through improperly wiping after going to the bathroom. Wiping from back to front risks transferring this bacteria and causing an infection. But, you could also pass the bacteria by simply touching around your backside and then touching the front without washing your hands. 

There is another bacteria that causes some urinary tract infections – klebsiella pneumoniae – and this usually forms in wet and damp conditions. For instance, if you wear a wet bathing suit for too long, the bacteria can form and get into your urinary tract. 

With this in mind, can someone pass a UTI to you – and vice versa? Generally speaking, because of how these infections form, urinary tract infections are not contagious. If you have one, you can’t directly pass that infection to someone else. 

Can UTIs spread between people in any way?

It’s common to think that UTIs spread during sex. However, this is not technically true. A UTI is not an STD – it will not be transmitted via sexual intercourse. 

Instead, you can pass the bacteria to someone in a number of ways. For example, if you scratch yourself and don’t wash your hands, then you hold hands with someone and they touch themselves when going to the toilet, they could end up with a UTI because the bacteria has spread. Indeed, having sexual intercourse could also lead to the bacteria itself spreading. If someone has unprotected anal sex and then has unprotected vaginal sex straight after, there’s a strong likelihood both parties will end up with a UTI. 

But, you’re not giving someone your UTI in the same way that you’d give someone your STD. You are just spreading the bacteria around, which is why it’s important to always wash your hands after going to the toilet or touching yourself down there. And also why protection should be worn during sexual intercourse. 

What causes UTIs?

As mentioned above, urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria. The two main strains are E coli and klebsiella pneumoniae. There are many different ways that you can expose yourself to either strain of bacteria to give yourself a UTI. For E coli, it revolves around transferring the bacteria from your colon or anus to your urinary tract by different means. 

With klebsiella, the bacteria forms within moist environments. If you’re on your period, keeping a pad on for too long could create the conditions needed for this bacteria to grow, and it will end up in your urinary tract, causing an infection. 

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

The main symptoms of a UTI are: 

  • Pain when you urinate
  • The impulse or urge to urinate more frequently – especially during the night
  • Urine that has a strange color and smell
  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain in your lower abdomen or kidneys

In more severe cases, you could suffer from a high temperature or a very low temperature. 

Who are at risk for UTIs?

Generally, women are more likely to get UTIs than men. This is because of the urethra and the anatomy of women compared to men. In women, the urethral opening is much closer to the anus than it is in men, making it far easier for bacteria to spread – especially after wiping. Women also have a shorter urethra, so it’s easier for bacteria to get up and spread to the bladder and kidneys. 

Individuals who are sexually active are also more at risk. This is simply because it is easier to spread the bacteria during certain sexual activities. 

How to treat a UTI?

The good news is that these infections are highly treatable with a course of antibiotics. Symptoms should start clearing up within a few days of taking your medication, and you are always advised to complete the full course to prevent the infection from returning. 

In rare cases, you may consider going to urgent care for your UTI if the symptoms are particularly painful or debilitating. However, this is usually not necessary as the majority of UTIs persist without complications. Still, it could be useful to consider virtual urgent care if you want to get a quick diagnosis to confirm if it is indeed a UTI. 

What can you do to prevent UTIs?

Preventing UTIs is relatively easy once you understand how they are formed. Always wipe from front to back when going to the toilet, and be sure you wash your hands thoroughly as well. Try to avoid touching yourself down below unless you have washed your hands beforehand. 

During sexual intercourse, be sure to use protection – particularly if participating in anal sex. Ensure you wash your genitals thoroughly afterward as well, to rid yourself of any bacteria that may have gotten on them. 

When should you see a doctor?

You should contact a doctor when you notice the signs and symptoms of a UTI. This is because most urinary tract infections won’t go away unless treated with antibiotics. 

Thankfully, you can make an on-demand virtual doctor visit using DrHouse to get seen right away. This allows you to get an online prescription for your antibiotics, so you can begin treatment and watch your symptoms fade in just a few days. 

Key takeaways

The biggest takeaway from this is that UTIs are not technically contagious as you can’t pass your infection on to someone else. However, it is possible to spread the bacteria that causes UTIs, which is why proper hygiene is needed to prevent them. 


Sources:

  • Ashurst JV, Dawson A. Klebsiella Pneumonia. [Updated 2022 Feb 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519004/ 
  • Lim JY, Yoon J, Hovde CJ. A brief overview of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and its plasmid O157. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2010 Jan;20(1):5-14. PMID: 20134227; PMCID: PMC3645889.
  • Ben J. Barnett, David S Stephens, Urinary Tract Infection: An Overview, The American Journal of the Medical Sciences, Volume 314, Issue 4, 1997, Pages 245-249, ISSN 0002-9629, Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9629(15)40208-3.
  • Medina M, Castillo-Pino E. An introduction to the epidemiology and burden of urinary tract infections. Ther Adv Urol. 2019 May 2;11:1756287219832172. doi: 10.1177/1756287219832172. PMID: 31105774; PMCID: PMC6502976.

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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