Pyogenic Vertebral Osteomyelitis: A Systematic Review of Clinical Characteristics

Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Aug;39(1):10-7. doi: 10.1016/j.semarthrit.2008.03.002. Epub 2008 Jun 11.


Objectives: Vertebral osteomyelitis is a cause of back pain that can lead to neurologic deficits if not diagnosed in time and effectively treated. The objective of this study was to systematically review the clinical characteristics of pyogenic vertebral osteomyelitis (PVO).

Methods: The authors conducted a systematic review of the English literature. The inclusion criteria included studies with 10 or more subjects diagnosed with PVO based on the combination of clinical presentation with either a definitive bacteriologic diagnosis or pathological and/or imaging studies.

Results: The 14 studies that met selection criteria included 1008 patients with PVO. Of them, the majority (62%) were men, with back pain and fever as the most common presenting symptoms. Diabetes mellitus was the most common underlying medical illness, while the urinary tract was the commonest source of infection. Staphylococcus aureus was the most commonly isolated organism. Computed tomographic guided or open biopsy yielded the causative organism more often than blood cultures (77% versus 58%). Plain radiography showed abnormalities in 89% of the cases, while bone scanning and computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging were positive in 94% of the cases, revealing lumbar as the most commonly affected area. The attributable mortality was 6%, while relapses and neurological deficits were described in the 32% and 32% of the cases, respectively.

Conclusion: PVO is an illness of middle-aged individuals with underlying medical illnesses. Although the mortality rate is low, relapses and neurological deficits are common, making early diagnosis a major challenge for the physician.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / microbiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteomyelitis / drug therapy
  • Osteomyelitis / microbiology*
  • Osteomyelitis / pathology*
  • Staphylococcal Infections / complications
  • Staphylococcus aureus


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents