The etiology of urinary tract infection: traditional and emerging pathogens

Dis Mon. 2003 Feb;49(2):71-82. doi: 10.1067/mda.2003.8.


The microbial etiology of urinary infections has been regarded as well established and reasonably consistent. Escherichia coli remains the predominant uropathogen (80%) isolated in acute community-acquired uncomplicated infections, followed by Staphylococcus saprophyticus (10% to 15%). Klebsiella, Enterobacter, and Proteus species, and enterococci infrequently cause uncomplicated cystitis and pyelonephritis. The pathogens traditionally associated with UTI are changing many of their features, particularly because of antimicrobial resistance. The etiology of UTI is also affected by underlying host factors that complicate UTI, such as age, diabetes, spinal cord injury, or catheterization. Consequently, complicated UTI has a more diverse etiology than uncomplicated UTI, and organisms that rarely cause disease in healthy patients can cause significant disease in hosts with anatomic, metabolic, or immunologic underlying disease. The majority of community-acquired symptomatic UTIs in elderly women are caused by E coli. However, gram-positive organisms are common, and polymicrobial infections account for up to 1 in 3 infections in the elderly. In comparison, the most common organisms isolated in children with uncomplicated UTI are Enterobacteriaceae. Etiologic pathogens associated with UTI among patients with diabetes include Klebsiella spp., Group B streptococci, and Enterococcus spp., as well as E coli. Patients with spinal cord injuries commonly have E coli infections. Other common uropathogens include Pseudomonas and Proteus mirabilis.Recent advances in molecular biology may facilitate the identification of new etiologic agents for UTI. The need for accurate and updated population surveillance data is apparent, particularly in light of concerns regarding antimicrobial resistance. This information will directly affect selection of empiric therapy for UTI.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Catheters, Indwelling / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Escherichia coli / pathogenicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Urinary Tract Infections / etiology*
  • Urinary Tract Infections / microbiology