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Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2005 Jan-Feb;9(1):53-66.

Clinical features, diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to haematogenous vertebral osteomyelitis.

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Department of Orthopaedics and Traumatology, Maggiore Hospital "CA Pizzardi" - Bologna (Italy).


This article review the clinical features and the diagnostic approach to haematogenous vertebral osteomyelitis in order to optimise treatment strategies and follow-up assessment. Haematogenous spread is considered to be the most important route: the lumbar spine is the most common site of involvement for pyogenic infection and the thoracic spine for tuberculosis infection. The risk factors for developing haematogenous vertebral osteomyelitis are different among old people, adults and children: the literature reports that the incidence seems to be increasing in older patients. The source of infection in the elderly has been related to the use of intravenous access devices and the asymptomatic urinary infections. In young patients the increase has been correlated with the growing number of intravenous drug abusers, with endocarditis and with immigrants from areas where tuberculosis is still endemic. The onset of symptoms is typically insidious with neck or back pain often underestimated by the patient. Fever is present in 10-45% of patients. Spinal infections may cause severe neurological compromise in few cases, but mild neurological deficit, limited to one or two nerve roots, was detected in 28-35% of patients. The diagnosis of haematogenous vertebral osteomyelitis may be very difficult, as the symptoms can be sometimes not specific, vague or almost absent. The usual delay in diagnosis has been reported to be two to four months, despite the use of imaging techniques: in the early diagnosis of vertebral ostemyelitis is important the role of bone scintigraphy. The general principles for the management of spine infections are non operative, consisting of external immobilization and intravenous antibiotics, followed by oral antibiotics. Indications for surgery should be given in case of absence of clinical improvement after 2-3 weeks of intravenous antibiotics, persistent back pain and systemic effects of chronic infection and with presence or progression of neurological deficit in elderly or in cervical infection. Chronic ostemyelitis may require surgery in case of a development of biomechanical instability and/or a vertebral collapse with progressive deformity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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