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A to Z: Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis (os-tee-oh-my-uh-LY-tis) is when a bone  becomes infected, usually due to bacteria entering the body’s tissues through an open wound.

More to Know

Osteomyelitis is most commonly caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, but other bacteria can cause it, too. Germs usually enter the body’s tissues through an open wound (often a broken bone that breaks the skin), but also can travel to a bone through the bloodstream from another infected area in the body (this is called hematogenous osteomyelitis).

Bones also can become infected when the blood supply to them is disrupted. This sort of infection usually happens in the toes or feet; osteomyelitis from other causes usually affects the long bones of the arms and legs.

Osteomyelitis can cause severe pain in the infected bone, fever, chills, nausea, and a general ill feeling. The skin above the infected bone may become sore, red, and swollen. Osteomyelitis can get worse quickly and lead to serious complications if not treated.

Treatment for osteomyelitis depends on the severity of the infection, but usually involves intravenous (IV) antibiotic medications. For more severe infections, treatment might include a procedure (called debridement) in which a doctor cleans the wound, removes dead tissue, and drains pus from the bone so that it can heal properly.

Keep in Mind

With early diagnosis and proper treatment, osteomyelitis usually heals completely with no long-term complications. To help prevent osteomyelitis, clean fresh wounds thoroughly with soap and water and keep them clean afterward with sterile gauze or a clean cloth. Applying an over-the-counter antibiotic cream also can help prevent wound infection.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.