Decreasing the risk of urinary tract infections

Paediatrics & Child Health (Canada), Volume 3, Issue 1, Jan/Feb 1998.

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor:

At the 1997 meeting of the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) I listened with interest to a presentation entitled A cohort study on male neonatal circumcision and the subsequent risk of urinary tract infection by Doctors To, Agha, Dick and Feldman1. The data presented supported the previous reports in the literature of a decreased risk of urinary tract infection (UTI) among circumcised boys compared with circumcised ones, in addition they estimated that 625 boys would have to be circumcised to prevent one hospitalization for UTI in the first five years of life. This perspective indeed lends support to the position of the CPS that circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed3.

While these authors did not look at the incidence of UTI in girls, those investigators who have done so have reported the incidence of UTIs in girls to be intermediate between that observed in circumcised and uncircumcised boys. Wiswell and colleagues3 when they reviewed the records of 427,698 infants (219,755) boys born in the United States armed forces hospitals between 1975 and 1979 found an incidence of UTI that was 10-fold higher for uncircumcised boys (1.03%) than for circumcised boys (0.1%). Mentioned for comparison purposes only and without other comment was the rate of 0.52% among girls. However, if we are concerned about prevention, should we also not be concerned about the incidence of UTI in girls?

I am writing to express my concern that in focusing on the role of circumcision, we have failed to evaluate other potentially important suggestions that have been made regarding the prevention of UTIs in infancy, suggestions that are not sex specific! It is known that the virulence of Escherichia coli strains isolated in cases of UTI correlates with the ability of the strain to bind to uroepithelial cells4. For example in one series, 94% of infantile pyelonephritis was reported to be due to P-fimbriated E Coli5. Based on these observations Winberg and colleagues4 have suggested two alternative measures for UTI prevention in infancy. The first is the deliberate colonization of infants with nonpathogenic bacteria from their mothers; the second is the promotion of rooming-in to facilitate colonization by nonpathogenic bacteria from their mothers. The first measure is analogous to the deliberate colonization of the umbilicus and nasal mucosa, which was undertaken to arrest epidemics of Staphyloccus aureus in the past6. The second is in keeping with current trends in maternal and infant care and, if effective, might prove to be a preventative program that actually has no added cost!

Neither of these measures has ever been fully evaluated. One case control study7 has looked at breast-feeding and UTI. In that report only 47% of 62 infants presenting with a UTI had been breastfed, while 82% of 62 control infants from a well baby clinic and 87% of 62 control infants admitted to a hospital because of fever had been breastfed. None of the control infants had a UTI (P<0.001). Winberg and colleagues' suggestions have not otherwise been tested. The CPS statement Neonatal circumcision revisited has as one of its conclusions Evaluation of alternative measures of preventing UTI in infancy is required2. If we are truly concerned about prevention this needs to be done.

EW Outerbridge, MD FRCPC
Newborn Medicine Service
External link The Montreal Children's Hospital,
Montréal, Quebec


  1. To T, Agha M. Dick PT, Feldman W. A cohort study on male circumcision and the subsequent risk of urinary tract infection. Paediatr Child Heath 1997; Vol 2 (Supple A):55A (Abst).
  2. Fetus and Newborn Committee, Canadian Paediatric Society. External link Neonatal circumcision revisited. Can Med Assoc J 1996;154: 769-780.
  3. Wiswell TE, Enzenauer RW, Holton ME, et al. Declining frequency of circumcision: implications for changes in the absolute incidence and male to female sex ratio of urinary tract infections in early infancy. Pediatrics 1987;79:338-403.
  4. Winberg J, Bollgren, I, Kallenius G, et al. Clinical pyelo- nephritis and focal renal scarring. A selected review of patho- genesis, prevention and prognosis. Pediatr Clin North Am 1982; 29:801:14.
  5. Kallenius G, Svenson S, Mollby R, et al. Structure of carbo- hydrate part of receptor on human uroepithelial cells for pyelonephritogenic Escherichia coli. Lancet 1981;ii:604-6. [External link PubMed]
  6. Dubos R. Staphylococci and infection immunity. Am J Dis Child 1966;105:643-5. (Edit)
  7. Pisacane A. Graziano L, Zona G. Breast feeding and urinary tract infection. Lancet 1990;336:50. (Letter)

CIRP logo Note:

Paedatrics & Child Health is the official journal of the Canadian Paediatric Society. Dr. Eugene W. Outerbridge is the principal author of the 1996 CPS statement on circumcision, Neonatal Circumcision Revisited.


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