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Info on spinal cord abscess

David Mckalip dmmckali at gibbs.oit.unc.edu
Mon Feb 7 11:22:00 EST 1994

In article <ncullen.14.760573936 at fox.nstn.ns.ca>,
Nancy Cullen    <ncullen at fox.nstn.ns.ca> wrote:
>I had an abscess on my spine in December 1993 and I would appreciate 
>receiving any information that is available on that ailment. I was told the 
>night of my surgery that I would never walk again, but within 10 days I was 
>using a walker, then I graduated to canes and can now walk on my own for 
>short distances. The only other person that I have heard of having the same 
>problem is now a parapalegic.
>Thank you in advance,
>Nancy Cullen

You are quite fortunate.  From your description, you probably had an
epidural abscess of the thoracic spinal cord.  This is a collection of
infected material (mostly pus) that accumulates over the meningeal lining
of the spinal cord, the dura mater.  It is usually caused by
Staphylococcus aureus, but a number of different organisms have been
described.  There is usually a history of an infection somewhere else in
the body like the bladder, sinuses, teeth, adjacent bone etc.  This often
occurs in diabetics and in those with chronic renal failure (Don't worry,
you would likely already be on dialysis if you had this).  It can result
from infected I.V. sites or in I.V. drug abusers and alcoholics.  However,
upt to 15-30 percent of patients will have no risk factors identified.

Given your excellent outcome, your surgeons must have done a good job
diagnosing you early.  Your prognosis is likely excellent considering your
progress so far. You usually will see improvement of function up to a year
or so after a spinal cord injury.  You likely will require antibiotics for
4 - 12 weeks and will require routine follow-up x-rays to rule out any
evidence of continued or new bony infection.  You may also need an MRI,
but that is very variable depending on outcome.  Different patients have
different outcomes depending on the rapidity of diagnoses, degree of
inital damage and other health factors.
  Please note I cannot prognosticate about you specifically but only
provide general info based on what you have posted.  Nor should my remarks
be used a medical advice or be considered to reflect the opinions of the
University of North Carolina or my department.

Good luck,

David McKalip, M.D.
Division of Neurosurgery
UNC-Chapel Hill

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