Background: It is estimated that 10 to 15 million people are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the United States. Spinal involvement is said to occur in less than 1%.
Methods: A review of the clinic records of all patients having a diagnosis of spinal tuberculosis at the New Jersey Medical School National Tuberculosis Center from January 1994 to January 1999 was done.
Results: Twelve patients with spinal TB were identified (2.2%). Spinal tuberculosis is characteristically chronic and slowly progressive. Presenting symptoms are usually back and neck pain or pain at the site of involvement. Pain was noted in a majority (83%) of our patients. Despite proven diagnoses by culture or histology, only 41% were purified protein derivative-positive. Unlike pulmonary tuberculosis, which may present with a constellation of symptoms, including cough, weight loss, fever, and night sweats, if tuberculosis only involves bone, pain may be the only symptom. Most patients were successfully treated with surgery and anti-TB medications. Tuberculosis remains a major public health problem.
Conclusions: Before the disease can be treated, it must be recognized. Tuberculosis should be considered a diagnostic possibility when spinal osteomyelitis is seen, even in the absence of pulmonary disease or HIV infection. Back pain in a patient with tuberculosis should be evaluated. Early initiation of an appropriate treatment regimen may reduce the need for surgical intervention, but most patients require surgery.