Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that can be acute or chronic. Despite the apparent immobilisation, bone tissue is active and live, and because of its numerous blood vessels it resembles a honeycomb. In osteomyelitis, bacteria penetrate (e.g. through infected wounds) into the blood and cause bone infections. In some cases, the infection may involve a part of the bone after a minor bone injury that occurred two to three weeks earlier. The bone is inflammed and the pus is created, as in skin infections (furunculosis, for example).
Usually, only a portion of the bone of the limbs near the wrist is affected, although rarely (especially in younger patients), there is a bony infection. Sometimes the infection does not spread, but stays in the bone cavity. There it ”stays low” (perhaps for years) until, for certain reasons, the patient’s natural resistance is reduced and then the infection starts to spread.
Symptoms usually occur in two to three days. The main symptoms are the pain and the ultimate sensitivity of the affected area. A baby or a small kid reluctantly moves with a hand or foot and is likely to cry loudly from pain if you touch or start to move his limb. If the leg bone is infected, the child will not want to walk; if you force him to walk, he will limping.
The child generally looks ill, and the pain is accompanied by an elevated temperature. If you don’t start with the treatment, after a day or two the skin above the infected area will become red and swell.
Osteomyelitis is rare in developed countries. It usually occurs in children who are between 5 and 14 years old, and is more in boys than in girls.
If the disease is completely ignored (which is, however, very rare), the bacteria can spread and multiply in the blood and cause blood poisoning. Much more dangerous is the possibility, though very rare, that the bacteria will destroy part of the bones and spread to the adjacent wrist. If that happens, permanent stiffness or deformation of that joint will most likely occur.
There is also a possibility that the infection will spread upwards and penetrate on the skin surface. Then an abscess emerges from which the pus is excreted and can not be healed until the basic bone infection is cured.
What to do?
If your child shows signs of osteomyelitis, contact your doctor immediately. If the physician confirms the suspicion, the child will have to be immediately admitted to the hospital. To confirm the diagnosis, a doctor will perform blood tests and X-ray of the affected area.
The main type of treatment is the treatment with antibiotics in the form of tablets or liquids (or perhaps with intravenous infusion). If necessary, a short surgical procedure is performed to drain and clean the abscess. In some cases, the doctor will decide on the immobilization of the affected joint. When the condition starts to improve (and the infection is not as strong) the baby will be released from the hospital to a home care, but you must follow the doctor’s instructions on taking antibiotics and excercising the affected area until the disease is cured.