Many people don’t know it, but common childhood infections can cause kidney damage and kidney failure. This is especially true for children. Two childhood infections to be aware of are 1) strep infections caused by the Streptococcus bacteria, which leads to strep throat and impetigo (a skin infection), and 2) urinary tract infections. These conditions need prompt attention and must be treated with antibiotics in order to prevent long-term problems. Bacterial infections do not go away by themselves in the same way that viruses might do. It is true that antibiotics used for the wrong reasons can be a problem, but with these two types of infection, it is important to use antibiotics right away.
The connection between strep and the kidneys is that after your child has had either a throat or skin strep infection, they can develop post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis (PSGN). The strep bacteria travel to the kidneys and make the filtering units of the kidneys (glomeruli) inflamed, causing the kidneys to be less able to filter urine. Fortunately, PSGN is less common today because of antibiotics. PSGN can develop 1 - 2 weeks after an untreated throat infection, or 3 - 4 weeks after an untreated skin infection. It occurs most often in 6 – 10 year olds. It is always best to follow up with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Testing is quick and easy, and once your child begins antibiotics, they will start feeling better quite quickly.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) should also be followed up on and treated promptly. They are most often caused by the E. coli bacterium. All children can get a UTI, but they are more common in girls and in boys less than six months old who have not been circumcised (had the foreskin covering the penis removed).
Most UTIs are not serious, but some can lead to kidney scars and poor kidney function if left untreated. That is why it is important to start them on antibiotics as soon as possible. Some UTIs that occur very suddenly can be life threatening, especially if the bacteria enter the bloodstream. If you have antibiotics in your home that were prescribed for a different problem, do NOT use them. Your healthcare provider must first check which type of bacteria is causing the UTI to see which antibiotic will be effective. It is very dangerous if you use the wrong antibiotic.
After a child is found to have a UTI, more tests may be needed to make sure that the infection is not being caused by urine backing up from the bladder and into the kidneys, or if there is a blockage in the urinary tract. These situations can both lead to permanent kidney damage if not taken care of right away.