The use of labeled leukocyte (white blood cell [WBC]) studies in the diagnosis of osteomyelitis can be problematic. A combined study consisting of WBC imaging and complementary bone marrow imaging performed with technetium 99m (99mTc) sulfur colloid is approximately 90% accurate and is especially useful for diagnosing osteomyelitis in situations involving altered marrow distribution. There are limitations and pitfalls associated with a combined study. If there is no labeled WBC activity in the region of interest, marrow imaging is not useful. The sulfur colloid image becomes photopenic within about 1 week after the onset of infection, so that the study should be interpreted cautiously in the acute setting. Labeled WBC accumulation in lymph nodes can also confound image interpretation, although nodal activity can usually be recognized because it is typically round, discrete, multifocal, linear in distribution, and often bilateral. Furthermore, 99mTc-sulfur colloid that is improperly prepared or is more than about 2 hours old degrades image quality, potentially causing erroneous conclusions. Nevertheless, WBC-marrow imaging is a very accurate technique for diagnosing osteomyelitis. Knowledge of the criteria for image interpretation and of the aforementioned limitations and pitfalls, combined with careful attention to imaging technique, will maximize the value of this study.
Copyright RSNA, 2006.