The inflammation and infection of bone include a wide range of processes that can result in a reduction of function or in the complete inability of patients. Apart from the inflammation, infection is sustained by pyogenic microorganisms and results mostly in massive destruction of bones and joints. The treatment of osteomyelitis requires long and expensive medical therapies and, sometimes, surgical resection for debridement of necrotic bone or to consolidate or substitute the compromised bones and joints. Radiographs and bone cultures are the mainstays for the diagnosis but often are useless in the diagnosis of activity or relapse of infection in the lengthy management of these patients. Imaging with radiopharmaceuticals, computed tomography and magnetic resonance are also used to study secondary and chronic infections and their diffusion to soft or deep tissues. The diagnosis is quite easy in acute osteomyelitis of long bones when the structure of bone is still intact. But most cases of osteomyelitis are subacute or chronic at the onset or become chronic during their evolution because of the frequent resistance to antibiotics. In chronic osteomyelitis the structure of bones is altered by fractures, surgical interventions and as a result of bone reabsorption produced by the infection. Metallic implants and prostheses produce artefacts both in computed tomography and magnetic resonance images, and radionuclide studies should be essential in these cases. Vertebral osteomyelitis is a specific entity that can be correctly diagnosed by computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging at the onset of symptoms but only with radionuclide imaging is it possible to assess the activity of the disease after surgical stabilization or medical therapy. The lack of comparative studies showing the accuracy of each radiopharmaceutical for the study of bone infection does not allow the best nuclear medicine techniques to be chosen in an evidence-based manner. To this end we performed a meta-analysis of peer reviewed articles published between 1984 and 2004 describing the use of nuclear medicine imaging for the study of the most frequent causes of bone infections, including prosthetic joint, peripheric post-traumatic bone infections, vertebral and sternal infections. Guidelines for the choice of the optimal radiopharmaceuticals to be used in each clinical condition and for different aims is provided.
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