Osteomyelitis (pronounced: os-tee-oh-my-uh-LY-tus) is the medical term for
in a bone. It's usually caused by a bacterial infection. It often affects
the long bones of the arms and legs, but can happen in any bone.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Osteomyelitis?
Teens with osteomyelitis often feel pain in the infected bone. They also might:
feel tired or nauseated
generally not feel well
have sore, red, and swollen skin above the infected bone
Teens tend to get osteomyelitis after an accident or injury. The injured area may
begin to hurt again after seeming to get better.
What Causes Osteomyelitis?
Bacteria can infect bones in a few ways. For instance:
Bacteria can travel into the bone through the bloodstream from other infected
areas in the body. This is called hematogenous (pronounced: heh-meh-TAH-gen-us)
osteomyelitis. It's the most common way that people get bone infections.
A direct infection can happen when
enter a wound and travel to the bone (like after an injury or surgery).
Open fractures — breaks
in the bone with the skin also open — are the injuries that most often develop osteomyelitis.
Sometimes the bacteria can spread from a nearby infection. For example, an untreated
infection in skin or a joint can spread to the bone.
Is Osteomyelitis Contagious?
No, bones infections aren't contagious. But the germs
that cause osteomyelitis can sometimes pass from one person to another.
How Is Osteomyelitis Diagnosed?
If you have a fever and bone pain, visit the doctor right away. Osteomyelitis can
get worse within hours or days and become much harder to treat.
The doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about recent injuries to the
painful area. Blood tests can check for an increased white blood cell count (a sign
of infection) and other signs of possible inflammation or infection. An X-ray may
be ordered although X-rays don't always show signs of infection in a bone in the early
The doctor might suggest a
to get a more detailed look at the bone. The doctor might also recommend
an MRI, which gives much more detailed images than X-rays.
MRIs not only can diagnose osteomyelitis, but can help establish how long the bone
has been infected.
The doctor may do a
to get a sample from the bone. This lets the doctor find out which bacteria
caused the infection. It also can help the doctor decide which antibiotic would best
treat the infection.
How Is Osteomyelitis Treated?
Treating osteomyelitis depends on:
your age and general health
how severe the infection is
whether the infection is
(has been going on for a longer time)
Treatment includes antibiotics for the infection and medicine for pain relief.
Most people with osteomyelitis spend a couple of days in the hospital to get IV (given
in a vein) antibiotics to fight the infection. They can go home when they feel better,
but might need to continue IV or oral antibiotics for several more weeks.
Sometimes surgery is needed to clean out an infected bone. If a cavity or hole
developed in the bone and is filled with pus (a collection of bacteria and white blood
cells), a doctor will do a debridement. In this procedure, the doctor
cleans the wound, removes dead tissue, and drains pus out of the bone so that it can
How Long Does Osteomyelitis Last?
Most people with osteomyelitis feel better within a few days of starting treatment.
IV antibiotics often are switched to oral form in 5 to 10 days. People usually get
antibiotics for at least a month, and sometimes longer depending on symptoms and blood
Can Osteomyelitis Be Prevented?
One way to prevent osteomyelitis is to keep skin clean. All cuts
and wounds — especially deep
wounds — should be cleaned well. Wash a wound with soap and water, holding it under
running water for at least 5 minutes to flush it out.
To keep the wound clean afterward, cover it with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.
You can apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream, but the most important thing is
to keep the area clean. Wounds should begin healing within 24 hours and completely
heal within a week.
A wound that takes longer to heal or causes extreme pain should be checked by a
And, as with many infections, wash
your hands well and often to stop the spread of germs. Also be sure that your
vaccinations are up