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Rare cause of back pain: Staphylococcus aureus vertebral osteomyelitis complicated by recurrent epidural abscess and severe sepsis
  1. Louise Dunphy1,
  2. Shabnam Iyer2,
  3. Christopher Brown1
  1. 1Department of Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, Reading, UK
  2. 2Department of Microbiology, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, Reading, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Louise Dunphy, dunphylmb{at}


An epidural abscess represents a rare acute medical emergency, with a reported incidence of 2.5/10 000 hospital admissions annually. The clinical features include fever, spinal pain, radiating nerve root pain and leg weakness. When sepsis is present, prompt recognition is required to initiate appropriate antimicrobial therapy and surgical decompression. We present the case of a man aged 68 years presenting to the emergency department with a 3-day history of fever, low back, right hip and leg pain. He was hypoxic, tachycardic and hypotensive. He required intubation and ventilation. An MRI spine confirmed a posterior epidural abscess from T12 to L4. Blood cultures revealed Staphylococcus aureus. He started treatment with linezolid and underwent incision and drainage. He remained septic and 8 days later, a repeat MRI spine showed a peripherally enhancing posterior epidural collection from L2/L3 to L4/L5, consistent with a recurrent epidural abscess. Further drainage was performed. He developed bilateral knee pain requiring washout. His right knee synovial biopsy cultured S. aureus. He continued treatment with linezolid for 6 weeks until his C reactive protein was 0.8 ng/L. He started neurorehabilitation. 10 weeks later, he became feverish with lumbar spine tenderness. An MRI spine showed discitis of the L5/S1 endplate. A CT-guided biopsy confirmed discitis and osteomyelitis. Histology was positive for S. aureus and he started treatment with oral linezolid. After 19 days, he was discharged with 1 week of oral linezolid 600 mg 2 times per day, followed by 1 further week of oral clindamycin 600 mg 4 times daily. This case report reinforces the importance of maintaining a high clinical suspicion, with a prompt diagnosis and combined medical and surgical treatment to prevent adverse outcomes in this patient cohort. With spinal surgical services centralised, physicians may not encounter this clinical diagnosis more often in day-to-day hospital medical practice. The unique aspect of this case is the persistence and then the recurrence (despite 6 weeks of antimicrobial therapy and a second debridement) of S. aureus infection. Furthermore, the paucity of clinical recommendations and the controversy regarding the adequate duration of antimicrobial therapy are notable features of this case.

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  • Contributors All authors contributed to the writing of this manuscript. LD is responsible for writing the case report and literature review. SI is responsible for microbiology advise and management, literature review. CB is responsible for operation notes.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.