Spinal Cord Infections

What are spinal cord infections?

A spinal cord infection can develop within the region sporadically or transfer through the bloodstream due to exposure to a bacterial or fungal infection. However, an infection is also likely to occur postoperatively within three days or three months after a surgical procedure.

What are the symptoms?

Typically, pain is localised and arises from the site of infection.

Other symptoms include:

Concentrated swelling, tenderness and redness near the affected site.

Liquid (drainage) seeping from the wound

Vertebral osteomyelitis arises from a bacterial infection affecting the bone. The infection can be found in the vertebrae but can also transfer to the intervertebral disc and epidural spaces. Although the infection is common in young children and the elderly, it can affect patients of all ages.

How do you treat spinal cord infections?

Most spinal infections are treated intravenously through antibiotic therapy. However, should the infection be fungal-related, Dr Bomela will prescribe antifungal medication to treat the infection. In some cases, immobilisation is required when the spine becomes unstable. Usually, non-surgical treatment is recommended when the patient displays little to no neurological deficits. However, Dr Bomela may have to perform surgery to treat the infection when the destruction of the bones causes the spine to become unstable, significant neurological deficits occur, sepsis arises due to an abscess, cultures remain irretrievable and intravenous antibiotics are unable to treat the infection.

Surgery aims to debride the infectious, dead tissue and promote blood flow to the area. In addition, in the event of spinal instability, Dr Bomela will have to perform spinal fusion through the use of hardware to stabilise and fuse the vertebrae.
Lastly and more importantly, with surgery, there remains a greater chance of restoring the patient’s neurological function. Once the surgery is deemed necessary, an MRI, CT scan and x-ray can pinpoint the region that requires the most surgical work.


1. How long am I expected to undergo antimicrobial therapy?

Antimicrobial therapy aims to terminate microorganisms responsible for infection and is expected to last for at least six to eight weeks.

2. Does it take long for a spine infection to heal?

It can take a month or more for the infection to clear.

3. What will happen if a spine infection such as Vertebral osteomyelitis remains untreated?

If left untreated, a spine infection can cause severe spinal damage or, worse, septicaemia, blood poisoning as a result of uncontrolled bacteria.