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Infections causing kidney disease

A long list of infections elsewhere in the body can cause kidney disease. Here are some important ones. Most of these cause obvious symptoms beyond the kidney. For bacterial infections of the kidney itself (pyelonephritis) see info about UTIs and pyelonephritis.

Bacterial infection

Direct involvement of the kidneys in urine infections (UTIs) is called pyelonephritis, and is covered in info about UTIs and pyelonephritis.

The best known remote infection causing kidney disease is post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, which typically occurs after a throat or other infection with a Streptococcus (type of bacteria). You can get a similar nephritis with some other infections, so post-infectious glomerulonephritis is sometimes a better name. Worldwide this is one of the most common causes of glomerulonephritis, but it mainly affects children, usually gets better on its own eventually. It is now much less common in developed countries, where it may occur in older people and be less likely to recover quickly. More about post-strep and other glomerulonephritis.

Glomerulonephritis with other bacterial infections – infected lines, heart valves, and rarely some other infections, often but not always slow-burning (‘subacute’), can also cause glomerulonephritis. In developed countries, these are probably more common than Streptococcal infections as a cause of kidney disease. They can easily be confused with other diseases including vasculitis and cancer.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis affecting the kidney is typically slow over months; a chronic intersititial nephritis. It may cause scarring of the ureters and bladder below the kidney. It creeps up slowly so is often diagnosed late, so despite treatment there is often lasting damage.

Viruses

Hepatitis B can cause Membranous Nephropathy and sometimes other types. Hepatitis C typically causes MPGN (another type of glomerulonephritis) and is sometimes the cause of cryoglobulinaemia, which is one type of vasculitis. Both Hep B and Hep C respond to anti-virus treatment. Kidney disease tends to take a long while to improve or slow down, and there can be lasting damage.

HIV – can cause several different types of kidney disease. Some of these may be due to infections or autoimmunity caused by the infection, rather than the HIV infection itself. (More about HIV and the kidney to follow).

Hantavirus – is one of a number of less common viruses that can cause an acute interstitial nephritis.

Parasites

Malaria – can cause acute kidney injury in severe infections, and is sometimes thought to be responsible for glomerulonephritis. Probably there are often alternative explanations.

Schistosomiasis – is a tiny parasite infection caught in fresh water, usually in Africa. At first it infects the bladder. Over years it can cause scarring to the bladder and ureters, and this may cause kidney damage. Chronic infections may rarely cause glomerulonephritis. More info on schistosomiasis.

Leptospirosis – typically causes a fever with jaundice, red eyes, and acute kidney injury. The parasite is spread by rodents, typically rats, and associated with rivers and other water sources, including sewers.