The spinal cord and its surrounding structures can become infected by bacteria or fungal organisms. Risk factors that can make you more susceptible to these infections include older age, smoking, obesity, malnutrition, weakened immune system, infection with HIV virus, diabetes and cancer.
The most common types of spine infections are discitis, osteomyelitis, and an epidural abscess. Osteomyelitis refers to an infection of the vertebral bone of the spinal column and is caused by Staphylococcus Aureus, or other bacteria or fungus. Discitis is an infection of the disc between two vertebrae. Epidural abscess is a collection of pus between the dura, the membrane that covers the spinal cord and nerve root.
When you have infection in your spine you may feel ill and have a fever with chills, headache, stiff neck, back pain, redness and tenderness around the wound, and possibly drainage from the wound. You may also develop numbness and weakness in the extremities.
Spinal infection is diagnosed based on history, physical examination, and other imaging studies such as plain X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans. Blood cultures are obtained to detect the type of bacteria or fungus causing the infection. Additional blood tests may be ordered.
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection and the organism causing the infection.
Conservative treatment includes use of antibiotics or antifungal medications. A brace may be used to support the spine and to help relieve pain until the wound heals.
If the spinal infection causes instability of the spine, surgery may be required to remove the infection and decompress the nerves.
When there is an infection following spinal surgery, another surgery may be required to wash out the infection and remove infected tissue.
In some cases, a combination of surgery and long term antibiotics may be used to treat spinal infections.