A spinal infection is an infection of the spinal column (bones), the discs between those bones, the thin covering around the spinal cord, or the space around the spinal cord.
A spinal infection is an infection of the spinal column (osteomyelitis), the discs between those bones (discitis), the thin covering around the spinal cord (meningitis), or the space around the spinal cord (epidural abscess).
Spinal infections may happen following certain surgeries or in people with poor nutrition, a weak immune system, cancer, diabetes, other types of infections, or obesity.
Common symptoms include:
- Stiff neck
- Pain and tenderness
- Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
- Muscle weakness
Symptoms can range from being very mild to very severe.
You should see a doctor right away if you have:
- A sudden high fever
- A stiff neck
- A severe headache
- A cut or wound that’s taking too long to heal or is causing severe pain
- Any of the symptoms of a spinal infection following surgery in the area
Spinal infections can be diagnosed by performing an exam and with:
- Blood tests.
- Imaging tests, such as an x-ray, CT or CAT scan, or MRI.
- A CSF test. CSF stands for cerebrospinal [suh-ree-broh-SPAHYN-l] fluid. This is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
It’s important to know the specific cause of spinal infections because the type of treatment used depends on the cause. Treatment may involve medicine or surgery, or both.
- Medicine. Antibiotic medicine can treat infections caused by bacteria. Some anti-fungal medicines are available to treat some types of fungal infections. (Sometimes, a back brace is recommended to support the back until the infection goes away.)
- Surgery. Sometimes surgery is necessary to clear out the infection, remove damaged tissue, or provide more support to the spine if it has been weakened.
Spinal infections may be prevented by:
- Washing hands often with soap and water.
- Preventing skin and wound infections near the spine. Keep wounds clean and covered with a sterile bandage. Watch out for signs of infection, such as redness, pain, tenderness, swelling, and pus.
- Quick treatment of ear, sinus, and bloodstream infections.
- Completing antibiotic therapy after surgery.
- Meningococcal [muh-ning-goh-KOK-uhl]. This vaccine protects against a serious form of bacterial meningitis, which can be deadly. If your child has been in close contact with someone with meningococcal disease, call your doctor. Your child may need an antibiotic to prevent the disease.
- Haemophilus [hee-MOF-uh-lus] influenzae [in-floo-EN-zay] type B (Hib). This vaccine prevents a type of bacterial meningitis.
- Pneumococcal [noo-muh-kok-uhl]. These vaccines protect against bacterial meningitis. One type is given to children under age 2.
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR). Children need this vaccine to protect them from meningitis caused by measles and mumps.
- Varicella [var-uh-SEL-uh]. The varicella vaccine protects children against chickenpox, which sometimes leads to viral meningitis.
- Being careful around people who have meningitis. It’s possible for people with meningitis — or who carry germs that can cause meningitis — to spread the disease by kissing, coughing, sneezing, or sharing toothbrushes or eating utensils.
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