Infectious myelopathies

Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2012 Dec;18(6 Infectious Disease):1351-73. doi: 10.1212/01.CON.0000423851.63017.2a.


Purpose of review: Infections and secondary inflammatory changes play an important role in spine pathology leading to myelopathy or myelitis. To achieve optimal clinical outcomes and accurate prognosis, physicians must promptly recognize these disorders. This review provides a contemporary overview of the major pathogens known to cause myelopathic symptoms and focuses on unique clinical syndromes and signs to aid the differential diagnosis and further workup. This article will help neurologists to consider infectious etiologies during the initial evaluation of patients with myelopathic symptoms.

Recent findings: The spectrum of neurologic infectious diseases is ever evolving because of immigration and travel, aggressive antibiotic use, vaccinations, and effective antiretroviral therapies. One example of this is illustrated by the enteroviruses. Poliovirus is an enterovirus that causes an acute flaccid paralysis but can be prevented by vaccination. A different enterovirus, enterovirus 71, is increasingly reported as the etiologic agent of acute flaccid paralysis similar in presentation to poliomyelitis. This review recognizes the shifting spectrum of infections in immunocompromised hosts, including patients with HIV in the era of effective antiretroviral therapy. It outlines unique features of primary HIV complications as well as closely associated infections, such as tuberculosis, syphilis, and varicella-zoster virus. Finally, each section of this article outlines molecular and immunologic tools that are becoming paramount for effective and rapid diagnosis of the pathogens.

Summary: This article offers a basic review and definitions pertinent to myelopathic processes. Parainfectious, viral, bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections are discussed. Each section offers clinical descriptions, pathophysiologic mechanisms, diagnostic strategies, and an approach to treatment and prognosis. Clinical vignettes describe clinical presentations and imaging findings of prototype disorders leading to myelopathy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Mycoses / diagnosis*
  • Neurologic Examination / methods
  • Parasitic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / microbiology
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis*