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Osteomyelitis in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is a severe bone infection. It can develop in any bone, but often involves the long bones, such as the arm and leg bones, or the bones of the spine. Osteomyelitis may be caused by bacteria or a fungus.

What increases my child's risk for osteomyelitis?

  • Premature birth
  • An injury or surgery
  • A central vein or dialysis catheter
  • Poor blood flow to your child's arms or legs
  • Weak immune system
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes, sickle cell anemia, or a prosthetic implant
  • Poor nutrition

What are the signs and symptoms of osteomyelitis?

  • Fever
  • Pain, redness, and swelling
  • Trouble moving or putting weight on the limb
  • Bruising or discoloration
  • Pus coming from a wound or sore
  • Night sweats
  • A bone that looks out of place

How is osteomyelitis diagnosed?

  • Blood tests are used to find the type of germ causing the infection.
  • X-ray, CT, or MRI takes pictures of your child's bone and tissue to look for infection and damage. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the bone and tissue show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.
  • A bone scan shows diseased or damaged bones. A radioactive liquid, called a tracer, is given through an IV. The tracer collects in your child's bones so problems show up better in pictures.
  • A bone biopsy is used to take a sample of your child's bone to learn what is causing the infection. It can also help healthcare providers learn how to best treat the infection.

How is osteomyelitis treated?

Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicine will be given to fight the infection and to decrease pain or fever.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be needed to help the wound heal. The infected bone is exposed to a high amount of oxygen.
  • Surgery may be needed to drain or remove the infected, damaged, or dead bone tissue.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Your child may need to rest and wear a splint to help the bone heal. A splint will prevent the bone from moving. Have your child keep weight off his or her leg by using crutches, a cane, or walker as directed. Ask your child's healthcare provider for more information about splints and when your child can return to your normal activities.
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if your child needs to be on a special diet.
    Healthy Foods
  • Do not smoke around your child. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can make it difficult for your child's wound to heal. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Manage other medical conditions , such as diabetes, to prevent more bone damage.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has severe pain.
  • Your child's bone breaks.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child's symptoms return.
  • Your child has increased swelling, pain, or redness.
  • Your child has new drainage or an odor from the wound.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Treatment options

Further information

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