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Symptoms of osteomyelitis include:

  • Pain in the bones
  • Lots of sweating
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warmth
  • Pain
  • A general feeling of sickness or ill health

Very small children might not show these symptoms. These symptoms are common in other conditions and may not mean that your child has an infected bone.

When to See a Doctor

See your doctor if your child has any of the symptoms or signs of a bone infection. You don’t want to wait very long, because infections can get worse the longer they are left untreated. Osteomyelitis can be hard to treat, so the earlier you treat it, the better.


Osteomyelitis may be caused by:

  • Bacteria or fungi that get to the bone from the areas next to it
  • An infection in another area of the body that gets into the bone by moving in with your child’s blood
  • Injuries where both the surface of the skin and the surface of the bone are broken, and germs enter the area from outside the body
  • Bone surgery where rods or plates are put onto or through the bone

Osteomyelitis may occur with other risk factors, including:

  • Early birth or other problems with delivery in newborn babies
  • Diabetes
  • Injuries that expose the bone, or other injuries that lead to infections which spread to the bone
  • Sickle cell disease, a type of blood disorder
  • Bites from either humans or animals
  • A weak immune system, or a condition that causes a weak immune system

Diagnosis and Tests

Osteomyelitis can be diagnosed with different kinds of tests, including:

  • Blood cultures. A test in which a sample of your child’s blood is taken to check for bacteria and germs that may be causing infection.
  • Biopsy. A small piece of your child’s bone, or their bone marrow, will be taken out to check for signs of infection.
  • Bone scan. A type of nuclear [NOO-klee-er] medicine scan that makes images of areas inside the body by detecting small amounts of a radioactive material called a tracer. A special camera works with a computer to detect the tracer and highlight problems.
  • X-ray. X-rays are a type of radiation that can pass through the body. Different types of tissues, such as bones or organs, absorb different levels of x-rays, which can be used to make images of the body.
  • MRI. Magnetic resonance imaging uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed pictures of tissues, organs, and even blood vessels.
  • Needle aspiration. A process where a needle is used to take a sample out of your child’s bones to look for infection.
  • Physical exam. The doctor will look over the infected area to check for physical signs of it.
  • Medical history. The doctor will ask about any other conditions or injuries your child may have, to see if they could have caused the bone infection.


Osteomyelitis treatment works to stop the infection from hurting your child’s bones and the muscles and tissues around them.

Two major treatments are used:

  • Antibiotics
  • Surgery

Antibiotics attack the infection and help destroy it.

  • Your healthcare provider may give your child several kinds of medicine at once that work together to fight the infection
  • Antibiotics may be given to your child through an IV (a needle placed in their vein) or by mouth

If your child has had osteomyelitis for some time, and dead bone tissue has started to show up, surgery may be needed to remove it. Surgery may also be used if other treatment methods, like antibiotics, don’t help your child get better on their own.

Surgery can be done to take out plates and screws that might be near the area of the infection. Osteomyelitis can also result in areas of bone that need to be filled with material to help the bone grow back. Surgery can be done to place a bone graft in the gaps where the bone has worn down.


Osteomyelitis can be prevented by practicing good hygiene. If your child has a wound or deep cut, be sure to clean and bandage it quickly, so that germs and bacteria don’t have a chance to cause an infection.

If you have an open fracture, which is a kind of fracture where the bone breaks through the skin, seek emergency medical attention right away. Your health care provider will clean the injury and treat the fracture to help prevent infection.

What is Osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis [os-tee-oh-mahy-uh-LAHY-tis] is an infection of the bone. Children who get this type of bone infection usually get it in the tibia, femur, fibula, or other long bones in their bodies.

Osteomyelitis occurs when the middle part of the bone, the bone marrow (where blood is made) gets infected. It can be treated with a combination of antibiotics (medicine to fight the infection) or surgery (to replace areas that have decayed due to infection, or to remove dead bone tissue).

Your child can usually be cured of their osteomyelitis with these 2 treatment methods. Sometimes the infected bone may get a hole in it that can require surgery.

Osteomyelitis can be:

  • Acute. The infection has not been in the bone for very long.
  • Chronic. The infection has been in the bone for a long time.

Treatment for osteomyelitis may require your child to stay in the hospital for a few days to recover.

It can be hard to diagnose osteomyelitis because younger children and infants can be asymptomatic [ey-simp-tuh-MAT-ik], which means that there are no obvious signs of the infection.