Vertebral osteomyelitis is still a diagnostic problem. Nonspecific symptoms (low-grade fever, malaise, and weight loss) may dominate. Specific infections may be suggested by the history, and the diagnosis may be reinforced by a transient response to antibiotics. The patient may have symptoms resulting from a secondary paravertebral abscess. Even with fever, back pain, and point tenderness over the vertebral column, the correct diagnosis may not be considered. Predisposing conditions include drug addiction, instrumentation of the infected urinary tract, bacteremia from other causes, or previous back surgery. Diagnosis is made by roentgenographic studies and isolation of the causative organism from blood cultures or from the infected area. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common pathogen, although other microorganisms may be responsible. Intensive intravenous antibiotic treatment appears to be curative, without surgical debridement, external stabilization, or prolonged oral administration of antibiotics.
(Arch Intern Med 136:105-110, 1976)