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What is Osteomyelitis?

Posted by: Vicki Joseph | May 19th, 2012

What is Osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis was once a major cause of death in children. Since the advent of antibiotics, the complications of osteomyelitis have significantly decreased.

Osteomyelitis is infection of the bone. It is most commonly seen in children and people who are immunocompromised. It is thought that bacteria enter the blood from a concurrent infection like a chest infection, or from little cuts in the mouth when we are eating food. Most of the time the body’s immune system fights off these isolated bacteria. Occasionally the bacteria find refuge in areas that are relatively free of the normal immune system. In growing bones this is around the growth plate of the bone. Here the bacteria take hold and wall themselves off from the body’s immune system.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

In adults osteomyelitis may arise from trauma with open fractures. It can also occur in people who inject drugs, or who have severe infections spreading to the bone.

The body in turn walls off the infection much like an abscess, but in the bone this is made out of hard bone, and can sometimes be seen on X-rays. If the infection continues to grow, it will lead to an increased pressure within the bone and compromise the blood supply to parts of the bone leading to dead bone been present inside the bone, with ongoing infection the pressure will build and create a hole in the bone and eventually develop a tract through the soft tissues to the skin developing a draining sinus. Fortunately these are rarely seen today, thanks largely to antibiotic treatment.

Occasionally the body will wall of the bacteria, and they will remain there for many years until such stage that the body’s immune system breaks down and the bacteria overcome the normal defenses against the spreading infection.


In some cases, strong and targeted antibiotic treatment may be effective in combating osteomyelitis. If the bone diseases has advanced too far, it may be necessary to excise the affected area, or amputate the limb in question.

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Test Your Knowledge

How Many Bones in the Human Body?

An adult has a total of 206 bones in their skeleton

How many Bones in a Child's Body?

A newborn baby has 270 bones in the skeletal system. Most of their skeleton is made up of cartilage which forms bone as it hardens over time. The bones in a child's skeleton fuse together as they grow, reducing the number, up until about 25 years old.

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The femur or thigh bone is the strongest bone in the body. It is situated between the pelvis and the knee. It is also the longest bone in the body and is fully one quarter of your bodies' height.

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The weakest bones in your body are the tiny bones inside your ear that enable you to hear. On the other hand; the most commonly fractured bone is the clavicle.

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