Some people more prone to bone infections

July 26, 2012 By Albert Geetter, M.D.

Severe bone infection is one of the oldest maladies to strike man and its incidence can be traced to writings dating to about 300 BC. What's more, evidence points to the disease, also known as osteomyelitis, as having been present in dinosaurs! Thankfully, with the advent of antibiotics and increasingly sophisticated methods to treat bone infections, the cure rate today is quite high.

Osteomyelitis often results from an infection that has spread from adjacent tissues or blood stream from other parts of the body. It can also result from direct trauma to a bone, like a fracture. Typically, it's caused by a staphylococcus infection but it could also be a fungal infection or stem from lung tuberculosis.

Symptoms consistent with a bone infection include gradual swelling and tenderness of the bony area, low-grade fever and feelings of weakness or fatigue. Those who might be more prone to bone infections are diabetics, especially those with foot or toe ulcers; the elderly; people who are undernourished; or those with compromised immune systems, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy.

There are several ways to diagnose a bone infection. These include radiology studies or culturing of surrounding bone fluid obtained with a syringe. The most definitive way to diagnose a bone infection is with a surgical biopsy and culture.

Since the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s as well as subsequent treatments, the bone infection cure rate has improved dramatically. Today, most bone infections are treated over a period of six weeks, often through an antibiotic delivered intravenously. Depending on the wound, surgery can also be performed to help drain the wound and remove dead bone. Sometimes other medical devices can be used to help close the wound. Another sophisticated treatment option that may be used in conjunction with overall care is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This treatment delivers oxygen to help improve circulation and thereby aid in the healing process.

Wound care is a highly specialized field. The Hospital of Central Connecticut's Wound and Hyperbaric Center includes high-tech wound dressing modalities, wound closure techniques and advanced hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

With the advent of these technologies, the management and successful treatment of bone infections has greatly improved the lives of many who are afflicted with this disabling disease.

Dr. Albert Geetter is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff.