Osteomyelitis

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is one of the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals in pediatric orthopedics. We offer comprehensive services for patients who have osteomyelitis—a condition that causes an infection of the bones. Our goal is to provide a family-centered environment that helps our patients achieve their highest possible levels of health, independence and happiness.

Why Choose Gillette?

  • Gillette is one of the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals in pediatric orthopedics.
  • We offer a broad range of services for patients who have osteomyelitis and related complications.
  • Our facilities and technology are designed specifically to support the unique needs of people who have complex conditions.
  • Our experts collaborate to provide comprehensive treatment plans.

Osteomyelitis Definition and Incidence

Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone, usually caused by bacteria. It typically becomes evident within weeks or months after an injury occurs or after an underlying disease develops.

In children, osteomyelitis usually occurs in long bones (the arms and legs), but it can affect any bone in the body. The condition develops more often in boys than in girls. Fifty percent of cases occur in children under 5.


Osteomyelitis Symptoms and Effects

Some common symptoms of osteomyelitis are:

  • Pain in the infected area
  • Swelling, redness or warmth in the infected area
  • Fever
  • General discomfort or uneasiness
  • Chills
  • Excessive sweating
  • Irritability
  • Limping
  • Joint stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased use of an infected arm or leg

Because the infection can reduce blood circulation within the bone, the condition can cause bone death (osteonecrosis). In some cases, children experience growth impairment because osteomyelitis often develops in the growth plates of long bones.


Osteomyelitis Causes

Osteomyelitis is caused by bacteria entering the body. The bacteria can reach bone in one of three ways.

Through the bloodstream

Germs from an infection in another part of the body—such as an ear infection—might travel through the bloodstream to a weakened area of bone. In children, osteomyelitis often enters growth plates because they are softer and weaker than other areas.

From an adjacent infection

Sometimes deep wounds transmit germs far inside the body. If a wound becomes infected, germs can spread to nearby bone.

Direct infection

If a bone breaks so severely that it is exposed to open air, direct infection might occur. Direct infection can also happen during certain surgeries (such as surgery to replace a joint or repair a fracture).


Osteomyelitis Tests and Treatments

At Gillette, our specialists diagnose osteomyelitis using a combination of tests, a physical examination and a review of the patient’s medical history.

These tests might include:

  • Blood tests: We might take multiple blood tests to look for underlying infections, inflammation and changes over time.
  • X-ray: X-rays show the severity of any bone damage, usually after osteomyelitis has been present for several weeks.
  • CT scan: CT scans provide a more detailed view bones, making osteomyelitis easier to diagnose.
  • MRI: MRIs provide detailed images of infected bones and surrounding tissues.
  • Bone biopsy: This is the most effective way to determine the type of bacteria infecting a bone. We typically insert a needle into the infected area and extract a small sample of bone. When our specialists know the type of bacteria causing the infection, we can prescribe the best type of antibiotic to treat the infection.

 

Patients might receive one or a combination of the following treatments, depending on the child’s age and the severity of osteomyelitis.

Antibiotics

Depending on the type of germ causing the infection, we’ll administer the appropriate type of antibiotic (usually through a vein in the arm) for several weeks.

Surgery

Sometimes we’ll need to perform surgery to open the infected area and drain fluid. We might also perform a procedure called a debridement to clean and remove infected bone and tissue. Some patients need an additional procedure to fill in remaining space after the infected bone and tissue is removed. The filling remains in place until a child is ready for a bone or tissue graft. In extreme cases, when osteomyelitis has not responded to other treatments, amputation may be needed to prevent the infection from spreading throughout body.


Osteomyelitis Services

Gillette offers comprehensive services for patients who have osteomyelitis. Our experts collaborate to develop custom treatment plans for every patient.

Specialties and services most often involved in the care and treatment of osteomyelitis include:

For more information about Gillette’s specialties and services, search Conditions and Care.