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Osteomyelitis bone infection

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone caused by bacteria.

The condition is rare but serious. It usually affects the leg bones, but other bones, including those in the arms may be affected.

The infection can enter the bones through the bloodstream, from an open fracture or during an operation or procedure.

Osteomyelitis causes

In most cases, a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph bacteria from the skin or nose, causes osteomyelitis.

Certain long-term conditions like diabetes may increase your risk of osteomyelitis. People with weakened immune systems are also at a higher risk. Risk factors include:

Osteomyelitis in children

In children, osteomyelitis usually comes on quickly and is easier to treat. This is called an acute condition and the outlook is good with treatment.

Osteomyelitis in adults

In adults, osteomyelitis can be short-term or long-term (chronic). People with diabetes, HIV or peripheral vascular disease are more prone to chronic osteomyelitis, which persists or recurs, despite treatment. Whether chronic or acute, osteomyelitis often affects an adult's pelvis or vertebrae of the spine. It can also occur in the feet, especially in a person with diabetes.

Osteomyelitis symptoms

Acute osteomyelitis develops rapidly over a period of 7 to 10 days. The symptoms of acute and chronic osteomyelitis are very similar and include:

  • Fever
  • Bone pain, area around infection is tender
  • General unwell feeling
  • Swelling around the affected bone or lymph nodes
  • Reduced range of movement
  • Back pain
  • Irritability
  • Lost appetite
  • Not using affected limb or body part

Chronic osteomyelitis symptoms may also include tiredness, sweating, chills or skin changes.

Osteomyelitis diagnosis

A doctor will diagnose osteomyelitis based on the person's symptoms, a physical examination, blood tests and imaging scans or other tests.

A bone biopsy is usually necessary to confirm a diagnosis of osteomyelitis. This also helps determine the type of organism, typically bacteria, causing the infection so the appropriate medication can be prescribed.

Treatment for osteomyelitis

Antibiotics can help to bring the osteomyelitis infection under control.

This may be prescribed over 4-6 weeks and may start with antibiotics given through an IV drip before being changed to tablets later.

More severe or chronic osteomyelitis requires an operation to remove the infected tissue and bone.

Osteomyelitis prevention

The best way to prevent osteomyelitis is to make sure any cuts and grazes are cleaned-up and covered appropriately.

Seek medical advice for deep wounds and check for signs of infection during the healing process.

People with conditions like diabetes should take special care to try to avoid cuts, especially to the feet, in the first place.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 19, 2015

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