Acute Osteomyelitis - Historically known as “Bone Fever”

Osteo-: Bone
-myelo-: Marrow
-itis: Fever

Top: Acute supperative osteomyelitis in femur - note the purulent cavities and pus-filled medullary canal at A, B, and C. In this case, the epiphysis (E) and conjunctive cartilage (D) are uninfected.
Center Left: Acute osteomyelitis of tibia, cicatrices showing common position of sinuses in bone.
Center Right: Acute epiphysial separation due to osteomyelitis following typhoid fever.
Bottom: Early stage of acute osteomyelitis in tibia. Note site “A” - where the infection passed from the periosteum to the interior of the bone. The articular cartilages (C) are sodden with pus from the infected joint.

Acute osteomyelitis is most commonly seen in children and those with diabetes. It is rarely “spontaneous” - the bacteria that infect the subperosteum and marrow have to be introduced into the bloodstream somehow, and there is usually a known source.

Systemic infection or traumatic injury are the most common ways that bacteria (today, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus) can get to the bones. Historically, scarlet fever (caused by group A Streptococcus pyogenes) and typhoid fever (Salmonella typhi) were known to cause a large number of osteomyelitis cases in their wake.

When children develop osteomyelitis, the long bones of the body (the femur, humerus, etc.) are most often affected, whereas the spine and pelvis are most commonly affected in adults. This is because there is much greater bloodflow to the growing long bones in kids, and as such there’s much more opportunity for bacteria in the blood to infect the site.

Early symptoms of what used to be called “bone fever” are fever and bone pain (as one might assume), as well as local warmth and swelling, and an overall malaise. The bone infection usually presents after a patient appears to have recovered from a disease or wound, as it takes several days to become established enough to cause symptoms. Later on, if left untreated, extreme pain and open, often purulent, wounds above the infection may occur, as the bacteria bore canals through the affected bones.

Without treatment, osteomyelitis can lead to sepsis, complete breakdown of affected bones, or gangrene. When the epiphysis is affected by the infection, growth of that bone can be significantly stunted.

Today, the condition is usually treated with long-term, high-dosage, IV antibiotic therapy. If it’s not caught at the start of the infection, debridement of the bone (removing the infected tissue) may be required, and in extreme cases, bone resection (cutting out an entire chunk of infected bone) or amputation may be required. Prior to antibiotics, resection was the most common cure.

Diseases of the Bones, their pathology, diagnosis, and treatment. Thomas Jones, 1887.

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    Acute supperative osteomyelitis in femur - note the purulent cavities and pus-filled medullary canal at A, B, and C. In...
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    Now sadly bone fever means something very different.
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