Histopathologic findings in culture-positive secondary osteomyelitis

Daniel D. Mais, Sarah Hackman, Jenny Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As peripheral vascular disease and diabetes mellitus are increasingly common, chronic wounds are often seen. Bone biopsies, with imaging and microbial cultures, are often obtained to evaluate for osteomyelitis. Because much of the historical literature describing the histology of osteomyelitis pertains to primary osteomyelitis, this study characterizes the histologic findings and provides correlation with culture results in secondary osteomyelitis. The histologic features of bone biopsies were assessed over a 5 year period. Concurrent laboratory and radiographic data were obtained and these data were compared with culture results. This study included 163 cases, of which 104 were culture-positive osteomyelitis. All culture-positive cases had been present longer than 28 days and had at least one of the following histologic features: neutrophilic inflammation, plasmacytic inflammation, or eosinophilic fibrosis. However, none of these findings were restricted to culture-positive cases. Overall, plasmacytic and neutrophilic inflammation provided similar specificity, and positive predictive values for osteomyelitis. Medullary fibrosis gave a sensitivity of 95%, the highest for any single feature, and the combination of fibrosis and neutrophilic inflammation had the greatest specificity of 96%. Additionally, neutrophilic inflammation correlated often with isolation of Staphylococcus aureus, while plasma cell predominance was found more frequently with other infectious agents. This study describes histologic features in secondary osteomyelitis, which may challenge the widespread inclination to equate a neutrophilic inflammation with ‘acute osteomyelitis’ and ‘chronic osteomyelitis’ with one rich in plasma cells. We report an early correlation between common histopathologic findings and specific culture isolates, which can be further refined with additional research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number151661
JournalAnnals of Diagnostic Pathology
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Bone biopsy
  • Culture-positive osteomyelitis
  • Secondary osteomyelitis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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