A bone infection, also called osteomyelitis, is an infection that involves a person’s bone tissue. This type of infection can develop suddenly and last for only a short period of time or can be chronic and last for a long-term period. Infections of the bone tissue may be caused by bacteria or by a fungus. While anyone can develop an infection in the bone, individuals who have depressed immune systems or serious illnesses, such as diabetes, may be more likely to develop one.
Besides those with compromised immune systems or serious illnesses, people in certain age groups tend to be more vulnerable to bone infections than others. Very young children, for example, are more likely to develop infections in the bones, as are older individuals. People of any age can develop them, however.
A person develops a bone infection when his bone tissue is invaded by bacteria or fungi. This may happen in one of two ways. Sometimes the infections develop because bacteria or fungi make their way to the bone tissue through the bloodstream. In other cases, a bone may be exposed to the environment outside of the body and may be vulnerable to such invasions because of this exposure. For example, a bone may be exposed to bacteria after a break or severe wound.
Sometimes infections start when bacteria or fungi move through the bloodstream and into the bone tissue. When this happens to children, it is most likely to affect the ends of the limb bones. Adults are more likely to have their spines affected. In some cases, invaders get into the bones after a fracture or bone surgery. Sometimes they even get into the bone after a metal device or artificial joint has been used to repair the bone, such as in a hip repair surgery.
A bone infection may even develop after a person develops a soft-tissue infection. For example, an infected bone may be the result of the spread of infection from a foot ulcer. A gum infection could even spread to infect a person’s skull.
Symptoms of an infection include fever and pain in the bone that has been infected. The tissue over the bone may also swell, and the patient may feel tired. Often, weight loss accompanies these infections, and movement of the affected body part may be painful.
Treatment for the infection typically depends on the organism that caused it. For bacterial infections, antibiotics are used and treatment may continue for months at a time. When the source of the infection is fungal, the patient may have to take antifungal drugs for several months. In severe cases, surgical treatment is necessary. Recovery without surgery is most likely when the condition is discovered and treated early; if left untreated, it is possible for a bone infection to become a chronic condition.