Osteomyelitis: clinical update for practical guidelines

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Abstract

Bone infections represent a diagnostic or therapeutic challenge for the infectivologist, orthopaedic surgeon, radiologist and nuclear medicine physician. Staphylococcus aureus is the major bacterium responsible for bone infections although Mycobacterium tuberculosis is emerging as an infectious agent in Italy because of immigration from Africa and Asia. Osteomyelitis requires long and expensive antibiotic treatment, including rifampicin administered parenterally for several weeks and the use of antimicrobial-impregnated cement in prosthesis substitution. Sometimes it is necessary to carry out surgical debridement of a necrotic bone or the consolidation of compromised bones and joint prosthesis implants. Radiographs and bone cultures are mainstays for the diagnosis of bone infections but are often useless in the lengthy management of these patients. Diagnosis of skeletal infections still includes conventional radiography but magnetic resonance imaging is essential in haematogenous and spinal infections. Bone scans are still useful in acute osteomyelitis whereas scintigraphy using labelled white blood cells is preferred in infections of peripheral bone segments or joint prosthesis. In the axial skeleton a combination of an agent for detecting inflammation (67Ga citrate) and a metabolic agent (99mTc-methylene diphosphonate) enables an infection and an area of increased metabolic activity to be distinguished. [18F]Fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography, where available, has a significant impact in the study of infections using radionuclides: high-resolution tomographic images represent an effective alternative to gallium in the assessment of inflammation of spine lesions but a comparison with morphological examinations (computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging) is essential.

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