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Dogs identify friends by smelling their urine, but if your human associates are doing this then you may have a problem. This normally sterile body fluid offers pungent and delectable nourishment for bacteria, and once germs have climbed up your urethra into your bladder, you will soon notice foul smelling or bloody urine, loss of bladder control, stinging discomfort with urination, and a urgent need to rush from your car to the bathroom while your spouse or children are left to carry in the groceries. A simple urinalysis will reveal pus and bacteria confirming you officially have "cystitis" -- an infection of the urinary bladder.

Since men are endowed with a longer urethra (an excellent -- but not the best! -- reason for owning a penis) they seldom get bladder infections unless their health is complicated by diabetes, kidney stones or prostate problems. In women the urethra is less than two inchs long, making easy for bacteria to enter the bladder and adding one more affliction to the list of woes that befalls the females of our species. Up to two bladder infections a year is not unusual. As early adopters of social networking, bacteria have increasingly become immune to common antibiotics, and urinary tract infections (UTI's) can sometimes linger through several treatment cycles or even become permanent. Untreated cystitis can develop into pyelonephritis, where the solid organs of the kidneys become infected, producing a life-treating illness scary enough to merit its own page.

But most UTI's are easily treated. Of course the same antibiotics also kill the "friendly" germs that normally live in your digestive tract or vagina -- giving you a yeast infection, and prompting many women to beg for a diflucan tablet, piling one germ-killing drug atop another. (Try replacing some of you body's lost germs by eating some live yogurt, or even douching with a small amount added to water.) Alternately, you can avoid cystitis altogether by drinking plenty of water to keep up a brisk flow of urine, emptying your bladder completely and often, and remembering to pee immediately after finished your post-coital cigarette or phone text. Don't depend on over-the-counter remedies like Phenazopyridine. Although they ease pain and turn your urine an interesting color, they do not cure infections. However cranberry juice contains germ-killing hippuric acid. Drink a couple of gallons and call me in the morning.

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