Infected Disk in the Spine. Part 1

Q.How can a person get an infection of a disk space in the spine?


A.The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae, and disks that separate them. Much more blood supplies the disks than the bones themselves. Many diseases affect the spine. Most of these are arthritis conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, to name a few. Tumors and infections can also involve the vertebrae and the disks. When tumors involve the spine, they generally arise in other organs, such as the breast or the prostate. Malignancies such as these tend to involve the vertebral bones before spreading to the disks. Infections, on the other hand, usually involve the disks first and then the bones. For this reason, infection of the vertebral bones (vertebral osteomyelitis) usually involves a disk, often in the lumbar (lower) spine, and the vertebrae above and below it

A.Bacteria are the most common causes of vertebral osteomyelitis. Fungi can also cause osteomyelitis, but I will not discuss it here, because it is quite uncommon. Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph,” is the most common cause of vertebral osteomyelitis in normal hosts. This infection tends to worsen gradually, over weeks to months, with back pain and tenderness. Fever and other whole-body signs of infection are often absent.

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