Vertebral osteomyelitis is a rare spine infection that’s often caused by Staphylococcus aureus. It can happen after a surgery or by germs traveling from another infection site in your body. Risk factors include getting older and using dirty needles.
Vertebral osteomyelitis is a rare spinal infection. Osteomyelitis, the name for a painful bone infection that develops from bacteria or fungi, is itself rare. Vertebral osteomyelitis can happen as the result of an injury to your spine or after surgery. It can also be spread from another place in your body to your spine in your bloodstream. Other names for this condition include spinal osteomyelitis and spondylodiskitis.
According to research, more men than women develop vertebral osteomyelitis. The chances of it happening increase as you get older.
You may be more likely to get vertebral osteomyelitis if you:
Studies estimate that vertebral osteomyelitis happens to about 4.8 per 100,000 people, with the rate increasing over time. One estimate is that 26,170 to 65,400 people in the U.S. develop the condition every year, but it’s hard to be exact because vertebral osteomyelitis is difficult to diagnose.
Signs and symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis may include:
You might not have a fever if you have vertebral osteomyelitis.
Germs cause vertebral osteomyelitis, and the most common cause is the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph. Staph itself is common. About 30% of the total population have staph in their noses without consequences. However, staph infections can be very serious when they do happen.
Other types of germs like fungi or Mycobacterium tuberculosis (the germ responsible for tuberculosis) can cause vertebral osteomyelitis.
If you break a bone or something pierces your bone, you can develop a bone infection. Blood can spread infections from nearby areas of soft tissue if they’re infected. Bedsores can lead to infections elsewhere in your body, including bones. So can urinary tract infections.
Bone infections like vertebral osteomyelitis aren’t contagious, but the germs that cause them are. You can pass the actual germs to another person.
The symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis can resemble those of other diseases. In addition to taking a medical history and examining you, your healthcare provider will order diagnostic tests such as:
Your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics to treat vertebral osteomyelitis. You may get both oral and non-oral forms. Typically, you’ll be treated for about six weeks.
Your healthcare provider might also suggest back braces to help keep your spine stable, along with rehabilitation to improve muscle strength.
You might need surgery to drain pus from the infected area, as well, or to stabilize your vertebrae so they don’t collapse.
Men are more likely to develop vertebral osteomyelitis.
There are some risk factors you can influence, though, like:
With treatment, you may recover from vertebral osteomyelitis in a month to six weeks. However, it might take up to six months for you to feel fully recovered.
Without treatment, you may develop severe spine damage or septicemia (blood poisoning from bacteria). Death occurs in about 20% of cases of vertebral osteomyelitis even though diagnosis and treatment have gotten better.
It’s best to seek treatment early. Contact your healthcare provider if:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Vertebral osteomyelitis is a rare condition, but it does happen. It’s more likely to occur if you’re in poor health or have another type of infection. It’s important to contact your healthcare provider about back pain that doesn’t get better, even when you apply heat or take pain relievers. If you receive dialysis, inject drugs or have just had surgery and you have back pain that doesn’t improve, see your doctor immediately. The best outcome happens when vertebral osteomyelitis is diagnosed and treated early.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/10/2022.
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