A spinal infection is an infection that occurs in the vertebrae, which are the bones in the spine. An infection can also occur in the discs between the vertebrae and in the soft tissue around the spine. A spinal infection is rare but can affect adults as well as children.
An infection might be caused by bacteria or fungus and can occur after surgery. Most infections related to surgery occur between three days and three months after surgery; the average is one month after surgery. Bacterial or fungal infections also begin in another part of the body and spread to the spine through the bloodstream.
The infection can remain in the disc causing it to weaken and collapse. When this happens, the disc pushes against the spinal nerves, causing pain. If not treated, the infection can spread to the vertebrae, weakening the bones and causing them to collapse and press against the spinal cord, which can affect many body functions. If the infection is still not treated, those vertebrae can fuse, press against the nerve roots, and lead to constant pain.
Although it is rare, vertebral osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone and bone marrow, is the most common form of infection of the vertebrae and typically affects the lumbar region of the spine. These infections make up only 2%-4% of all bone infections. They can develop from direct trauma to the spinal, an infections in the tissue around the spine, and from bacteria that spreads from the blood to the vertebrae.
In addition to prior spinal surgeries, risk factors for developing a spinal infection include conditions that compromise the immune system, such as:
- Intravenous drug use
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
- Long-term systemic usage of steroids
- Diabetes mellitus
- Organ transplants
Symptoms of a Spinal Infection
In general, pain initially is felt around the site of the infection. Different types of spinal infections produce different additional symptoms, including:
- Patients with cervical spine infections might have pain and stiffness in the neck leading to decreased range of motion.
- Patients with intervertebral disc space infections (vertebral osteomyelitis) might have few symptoms at first. However, they can develop severe back pain, fever, chills, weight loss, muscle spasms, and painful urination.
- Patients with spinal canal infections might suffer from severe back pain with nerve root pain radiating from the infected area. They might also show muscle weakness and problems with the function of their bowels or bladder.
- Symptoms of an adjacent soft-tissue infection are generally nonspecific. The patient might experience abdominal pain, back pain, pain radiating to the hip and thigh, or a limp.
You should get medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms or if new symptoms appear or get worse. A spinal infection can cause damage if not treated correctly and early.
MicroGenDX Test Used in Diagnosing Spinal Infections
If you have a spinal infection, you will need a laboratory test that your doctor can order to determine the cause of the infection. Sometimes the cause of the infection might be difficult to identify.
An evaluation and culture (growing microbes from your sample in a lab) are often used to diagnose infections. However, standard cultures might come back negative even when you actually do have an infection, and that means your infection won’t be treated. Instead of relying on culture, a MicroGenDX test detects the DNA of all microbes in your sample along with how much of each microbe is present. MicroGenDX then uses that information to determine the drugs that can best treat the infection.
You can order the MicroGenDX SurgeryKEY test and get complete instructions here: https://microgendx.com/product/surgerykey-test-service/
Providing a Sample for the Spinal Infection Test
Getting a good sample is important in the diagnosis of spinal infections. To collect a sample, your doctor will use one or all of these methods:
- Sterile swabs
- CaptiGen flatswabs
Everything your doctor needs to know about how samples for the SurgeryKEY test are taken is included with the SurgeryKEY test and is also available online on the product page. The instructions included with your test contain illustrations that will help you to help your doctor collect a sample without contaminating it. It is always important to obtain a proper sample by following the instructions for collecting the sample, as well as when packaging and shipping it. For example, with either method, be sure not to contaminate the sample by touching it with your hands. For best results, you must be off all antibiotics for two days before the sample is collected. However, if this is not possible, the test can still be run.
Medical Specialties Treating Spinal Infections
Treatment for spinal infections is provided by a team of doctors, including infectious disease experts, neuroradiologists, and spine surgeons.
How Spinal Infections Are Treated
Accurate diagnosis of the spinal infection is important to determine the best treatment method. Traditional culture-based as well as molecular methods are used to detect pathogens.
It is important to know which microbes are present in infections that won’t heal; qPCR+NGS testing allows you to do exactly that. Molecular testing is 20 times more precise than other methods when identifying microbe species, so your doctor can select the appropriate antimicrobial treatment options.
It is important to know that not all antibiotics work for all bacteria, and some even work differently in different areas of the body. Your doctor should consult the “antimicrobials for consideration” chart on your MicroGenDX report to decide which treatment is right for you.
It is also important to complete the full course of medication as it is prescribed, even when symptoms begin to clear up before you are treated. All MicroGenDX diagnostic tests include detection of antibiotic resistance genes in your sample and provide alternative antibiotics for your doctor to consider prescribing to you.