Vertebral OM / Discitis

Vertebral OM / Discitis


Epidural abscess should be considered an emergency

Can also occur after surgery, injection of the disc space, or contiguous spread from adjacent soft tissue infection

Lumbar spine most common site

  • MRSA: If previous MRSA infection or colonization

  • Streptococci, Enterococci, Gram-negative bacilli, and anaerobes are less common


  • New or worsening back pain, often severe, with

    • elevated inflammatory markers,
    • fever (only ~50%),
    • current or recent bloodstream infection/infective endocarditis
  • Fever with new neurological symptoms


  • Early destructive changes can be missed with CT and is not sensitive for epidural abscess

Note: positive in only ~50% of cases

  • Concomitant presence of S. aureus bloodstream infection within the preceding 3 months and compatible spine MRI changes preclude the need for a disc space aspiration, as the etiology can be assumed to be S. aureus


Delay empiric antibiotics until microbiologic diagnosis unless septic or neurologic compromise (perform a thorough neurological history and physical exam)

  • e.g. psoas abscess, epidural abscess, empyema

  • e.g. endocarditis, septic joint, hardware infection

Regularly assess condition since neurological status can change quickly, urgent neurosurgery consultation if neurological symptoms or signs are present

Consult Neurosurgery if epidural abscess and closely monitor neurological status

Infectious diseases consult


Target antibiotics based on culture results

Usually 6 weeks of intravenous therapy and then reassessment