Osteoarticular tuberculosis in a developed country

J Infect. 2007 Apr;54(4):375-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jinf.2006.06.006. Epub 2006 Jul 24.


Objectives: To evaluate the clinical and diagnostic features of osteoarticular tuberculosis (OT) from a series of cases seen over 30 years in a large university hospital in Naples, Italy.

Methods: We reviewed the files of all patients admitted to our department from 1975 to 2004 with a diagnosis of osteoarticular tuberculosis.

Results: We identified 136 patients with 140 osteoarticular tuberculosis lesions. Fifty-three cases were diagnosed from 1975 to 1984, 36 cases from 1985 to 1994, and 47 cases from 1995 to 2004. Eleven patients (8%) were from high-incidence areas outside of Italy. The mean delay until diagnosis was 216.6 days. Pain, low-grade fever, and loss of weight were the most common presenting symptoms. Neurological involvement was present in 11 cases out of 79 spinal lesions (13.9%). Serological methods were used to study antimycobacterial antibodies using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA-TB test) in 59 patients (42.1%). Positive results on this test were obtained in 43 patients (72.9%). ELISA-TB test was the only diagnostic test associated with a shorter diagnostic delay in a model of multivariate regression analysis (p=0.001). Tc-99m MDP bone scans were obtained from 83 patients with 84 lesions and increased uptake in the affected area was noted in 72 lesions (85.7%). Histological and microbiological examinations were positive in 97 (69.3%) and 57 (40.7%) lesions, respectively. In 43 (30.7%) lesions, we could not definitively confirm the diagnosis. In these cases chemotherapy was nevertheless initiated.

Conclusions: Thorough and even invasive diagnostic work-up is mandatory for the proper and timely management of patients with OT. Tc-99m MDP bone scanning and ELISA-TB test are useful diagnostic tools. We always used microbiological testing and histological examination to confirm the diagnosis of OT, but empirical antituberculosis treatment was nevertheless initiated in the patients with high clinical suspicion in order to limit the potentially permanent destruction of affected skeletal segments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood
  • Bone and Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Developed Countries*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis* / immunology
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis* / isolation & purification
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Tc 99m Medronate
  • Tuberculosis, Osteoarticular / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis, Osteoarticular / diagnostic imaging
  • Tuberculosis, Osteoarticular / epidemiology*
  • Tuberculosis, Osteoarticular / microbiology


  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Tc 99m Medronate