Urinary tract infections are common bacterial infections that develop in the urinary tract, which includes the urethra, kidneys, ureters, and bladder. In general, these infections are not contagious.
Symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) include:
- frequent need to urinate
- pain or burning while urinating
- cloudy and foul-smelling urine
- pink, red, or orange urine, indicating the presence of blood
- pressure or tenderness in the lower abdomen, lower back, and sides
- nausea or vomiting
Although a UTI is not technically a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a contagious infection, having sex can increase a person’s risk of developing a UTI. Also, some STIs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis, can affect the urinary tract and cause symptoms that mimic a UTI.
In this article, we examine whether UTIs are contagious. We also discuss their causes and risk factors and provide tips on how to prevent them.
The bacteria responsible for UTIs can travel between people. However, the infection itself is not contagious.
UTIs arise when germs present in a person’s gut relocate and grow in the urinary tract. Upper UTIs affect the ureters and kidneys, while lower UTIs involve the urethra and bladder.
Having sex can increase the risk of developing a UTI. Escherichia coli bacteria, which typically live in the bowels, can travel from the anus to the urethra or the opening of the penis during anal sex. Vaginal sex can push bacteria on the skin into the urethral opening, which may increase the risk of a UTI.
Most UTIs occur when bacteria, such as E. Coli, enter the urinary tract. A UTI can develop in the bladder, urethra, or ureters. If a person does not receive treatment, the infection can move up the urinary tract and infect the kidneys.
STIs can produce symptoms that are similar to those of a UTI. Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis can infect the urethra, causing swelling and resulting in a condition called urethritis.
Symptoms of an STI include:
- itching, burning, or soreness of the genitals
- pain or discomfort during urination or ejaculation
- unusual vaginal or penile discharge
Some people have a higher risk than others of developing UTIs. Risk factors include:
- being sexually active
- being female
- having a condition that blocks the normal flow of urine, such as kidney or bladder stones
- using a urinary catheter
- having a history of UTIs
- having diabetes
- having a weakened immune system
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, between 40% and 60% of women develop a UTI during their lifetime. Most of these UTIs are bladder infections.
Females have a higher risk of developing UTIs because they have shorter urethras than males. As a result, bacteria have a shorter distance to cover to reach other parts of the urinary tract.
People with diabetes also have a higher risk of UTIs. In a 2016 study, researchers observed a higher incidence of UTIs among people with uncontrolled blood sugar, especially in adults over 40 years old.
Uncontrolled blood glucose levels can lead to nerve damage and poor blood circulation, which may explain why people with diabetes have an increased risk of UTIs. However, the exact reason for this link remains unclear.
A doctor can use a urinalysis to diagnose a UTI. A urinalysis checks for blood cells and bacteria in a urine sample.
A doctor may use a urine culture to identify the type of bacteria responsible for the infection.
They may also use other diagnostic tests, including blood tests and imaging tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds.
Doctors often prescribe antibiotics to treat UTIs. The exact dosage and type of antibiotic medication and the length of the course will depend on the individual’s medical history and the severity of the infection.
UTI symptoms may disappear soon after a person starts taking antibiotics. However, people should complete the entire course of antibiotics that the doctor prescribed.
People can speed up the healing process by drinking plenty of water to help flush the bacteria out of the urinary tract.
Although people with a UTI can safely engage in sexual activity, they may wish to speak with a doctor if new symptoms arise, such as:
- lower back pain
- abdominal pain
- unusual discharge from the vagina or penis
- fever or chills
- nausea or vomiting
Although some people have a higher risk of UTIs than others, they can lower their risk by practicing correct hygiene techniques and making lifestyle changes.
For example, people can lower their risk of developing a UTI by:
- drinking plenty of water
- urinating when the urge arises
- urinating before and after sex
- wiping from front to back after a bowel movement
- avoiding transitioning between the anus, vagina, and mouth during sex
A UTI occurs when bacteria from the gut infect parts of the urinary tract, including the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys.
Although having sex can increase a person’s risk of developing a UTI, these infections are not STIs. However, because STIs can cause symptoms similar to those of UTIs, there is sometimes a risk of misdiagnosis.
UTIs are not contagious. However, the bacteria responsible for UTIs can travel between people during sex. People can help prevent this by using barrier contraceptives and practicing proper hygiene techniques during sexual activities.