Osteomyelitis in Children: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Acute osteomyelitis in children: What is it?

It is frequently accompanied by fever. Children are more likely to get osteomyelitis in their limbs and arms than in any other bone in the body. However, it can impact any bone in the body.

Children can be affected by osteomyelitis at any age. Children under 5 years of age are about half as likely to suffer from it as older children and adults.

What causes acute osteomyelitis in children?

When a bone is infected by bacteria other than that which is present in that bone, the infection spreads to the bone. Children are most often affected by infections in the blood because growing bones have an increased blood supply. This makes it easier for the bacterium to infect the bone. Moreover, soft tissue infections or wounds may cause osteomyelitis as well.

Staphylococcus aureus commonly referred to as “Staph“, is the bacteria that typically causes osteomyelitis in children.

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What are the symptoms of osteomyelitis in children?

Osteomyelitis is typically characterized by these symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • irritability or fussiness

An infected bone may suffer from the following symptoms:

  • Pain or tenderness
  • The affected arm, leg, or other parts of the body cannot be used
  • Tiredness
  • Redness

The symptoms of osteomyelitis can seem similar to other conditions or disorders, so it is important to seek medical attention right away. Check with your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

What is the best way to diagnose osteomyelitis in a child?

Osteomyelitis is diagnosed by examining the patient right away and by performing a physical exam.

These tests may be administered to your child:

  • Blood culture. Bacteria are analyzed in blood samples.
  • Blood tests. If the test results are abnormal, it indicates the body is infected.
  • Bone biopsy. An analysis of bacteria is conducted on a sample of bone.
  • Imaging tests. An MRI and X-ray may be needed.

What is the treatment for osteomyelitis in children?

You will have to use your judgment in choosing the best treatment for your child depending on their symptoms, age, and general health.

Most likely, one or more specialists will treat your child with antibiotics. At least several days of IV antibiotics are typically needed, although these may sometimes last several weeks. Afterward, oral antibiotics are usually prescribed. Another treatment option is surgery to remove infected tissue, which is unique to children. But this is a common procedure.

What complications may occur if osteomyelitis occurs in a child?

While it isn’t common in children, long-term or chronic infections can occur from this infection. Antibiotics usually clear the infection up.

What is the best time to contact my child’s healthcare provider?

In the following situations, call your healthcare provider:

  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • irritability or fussiness
  • If any of these are present in the infection area, you should call your provider.
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Tiredness
  • The person isn’t using that part of his body
  • Redness

Osteomyelitis in children: Key points

  • The infection osteomyelitis occurs in the bone.
  • Long bones are more commonly affected in children.
  • A blood infection is often responsible for it in children.
  • Osteomyelitis is treated with antibiotics.
  • Surgery is rarely necessary.

Actions to be taken

You can ensure a successful visit to your child’s healthcare provider by following these tips:

  • Be clear about why you are visiting and what you hope to accomplish.
  • If you wish to ask questions, prepare them in advance.
  • You should keep a written record of any new diagnosis, medicines, or treatments your physician prescribes at your child’s visit. Also, record any new instructions that providers give you.
  • It is important to understand the purpose and potential benefits of a new medicine or treatment as well as its side effects.
  • Consult your doctor about other treatment options for your child.
  • What the results of a test or procedure could mean. Understand why it is recommended.
  • When your child does not take the medicine or undergo the test or procedure, know what to expect.
  • You may want to write down the date, time, and purpose of any subsequent appointments for your child.
  • When your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice, you should know how you can contact their provider after business hours.