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The intervertebral discs, the vertebral column (bones), the dural sac or the space around the spinal cord may become infected caused by bacteria or fungal organisms.

More Information

The symptoms of a spinal infection can present in subtle and very severe ways and include: -

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • A headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Pain
  • Wound redness and tenderness
  • Wound drainage

In the arms and legs, you may experience

  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling sensations

 

Your GP will begin with a physical examination and questions to screen for risk factors associated with the diagnosis of a spinal infection.

If a spinal infection is suspected, your GP may require further testing that could include: -

  • X-ray imaging,
  • CT or CAT (computerised tomography) scans or
  • MRI scans
  • Bone scan
  • Tagged white blood cell scan

If the above confirm an infection, the next step is to diagnose the cause - bacteria or fungus. Blood cultures grow from samples taken near the would or infected area. In the case of deep infections of the bones or disc, a needle culture is made using a local anaesthetic and x-ray guidance.

There are additional infection tests your GP may conduct at the same time such as: -

  • A white blood cell (WBC) count
  • c-reactive protein (CRP)
  • erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

After an operation, one of the causes of spinal infection, these test results may be elevated, but typically return to normal within a few weeks. Unusual elevation may be a sign of infection.

One cause of spinal infection is post-surgery, but they may occur in spontaneously from certain risk factors: -

  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking
  • Immune suppression
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

 

Nonsurgical treatment length and type depends on the severity and cause of infection and includes:-

  • Antibiotic medications
  • Anti-fungal medications

The duration of treatment can be 7-10 days or 6-12 weeks and administered through a course of pills orally or intravenously.

Surgery - Postoperative infections may require the infected tissue and bacteria to be washed away through surgery. If the infection has caused any weakness in the spine, further surgery may resolve this and relieve any pressure on the spinal cord.

 

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