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Original Investigation
March 9, 1998

Bacteremic Staphylococcus aureus Spondylitis

Author Affiliations

From the Sector for Microbiology, Statens Serum Institut (Drs Jensen, Espersen, and Frimodt-Møller), and the Department of Infectious Diseases, Rigshospitalet (Dr Skinhøj), Copenhagen, Denmark.

Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(5):509-517. doi:10.1001/archinte.158.5.509

Background  The incidence of hematogenous Staphylococcus aureus osteomyelitis of the vertebral column is rapidly increasing and few studies dealing with the diagnosis, treatment, and outcome of this severe disease are available.

Methods  Based on a nationwide registration, the clinical and bacteriological data were reviewed from 133 cases with a positive blood culture for S aureus and symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis in Denmark for the period 1980 to 1990.

Results  The 133 cases of vertebral S aureus osteomyelitis reviewed were mainly community-acquired infections (82%) in older patients (median age, 65 years) and often occurred with underlying diseases. Both symptoms and laboratory values were relatively unspecific. Bone scan methods proved to be more optimal for diagnosis of vertebral S aureus osteomyelitis in the early stages compared with conventional radiography that proved a lack of consistency in the formative stages. The infection was mostly (70%) localized in the lower part of the column. The recurrence rate and rate of therapeutic failure depended on the duration and dosage of penicillinase-stable penicillins, respectively. Patients treated with fusidic acid in addition to penicillinase-stable penicillins had a significantly lower recurrence rate. Based on these findings, we recommend treatment with penicillinase-stable penicillins and fusidic acid for a total of 8 weeks, with a daily dosage of penicillinase-stable penicillins higher than 4 g.

Conclusions  The diagnosis of vertebral S aureus osteomyelitis based on clinical findings is difficult to ascertain. Bone scans are necessary because radiographic methods do not detect disease as early. Treatment with penicillinase-stable penicillins, at least 4 g/d for at least 8 weeks, is recommended.