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Vomiting, fever, back pain, shaking chills. Is this a reaction to hearing the latest song by Justin Bieber? Or something more serious -- a kidney infection with a title that rolls off the tongue like the ominous sound of distant thunder -- "Pyelonephritis."

Renal infections begin their lives as humble bladder infections that may cause few initial symptoms. Eighty percent of you are female -- frequent victims of cystitis -- and the bacterium is often the same E-Coli that has peacefully lived for years only a few inches away in your digestive track.

But once the infection reaches the solid organs of your kidneys, a mild urinary tract infection transforms into life-threatening urological sepsis that will require hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics. If you are reading this page from a hospital bed, then you will be relieved to know that most cases have a happy outcome. Healthy people quickly improve with fluids and antibiotics and can go home as soon as the vomiting and fever stop, which is often just one or two days -- earlier if your insurance runs out.

Less fortunate are those who developed the disease as an in-hospital complication from a urinary catheter, obstructed kidney or chronically bedridden state. Hospital-aquired germs tend to be stubborn and resistant to most antibiotics. Complications can include abscesses that require surgery, or blood born infection spreading to other parts of the body, or relapsing illnesses in nursing home patients.

One fact might cheer you up -- pyelonephritis (Say it like "pile of surprises") seldom leads to permanent kidney failure. Once the infection is gone, you should walk away with your health restored and no lingering disability -- your symptoms cured.

Just don't turn on the radio.

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