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Systematic review of duration and choice of systemic antibiotic therapy for acute haematogenous bacterial osteomyelitis in children


  • Conflicts of interest: The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

Correspondence: Professor David Isaacs, Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, Locked Bag 4001, Children's Hospital at Westmead, Westmead, NSW, 2145, Australia. Fax: +61 2 9845 3421; email:



Historically, children with acute osteomyelitis received 4–6 weeks of parenteral antibiotics; however, evidence to guide optimal duration of therapy is limited. This study aims to summarise the available evidence on the duration and choice of antimicrobial therapy for acute haematogenous osteomyelitis in children.


We systematically reviewed the literature on children with acute osteomyelitis to determine if shorter durations of antibiotic treatment compared with protracted treatment gave different cure rates. We also analysed studies for choice of antibiotics to determine differences in success rates. Randomised controlled trials, cohort studies, case-control studies and case series were eligible for inclusion.


We identified six randomised controlled trials, three of which addressed duration of antibiotic use and three choice of antibiotic for acute osteomyelitis in children. We found 28 observational studies, 20 of which focused on duration and 22 of which allowed analysis of choice of antibiotic. A range of therapy durations and types of antibiotics were assessed. Only one small study looked at treatment of neonates.


The quality of evidence on antibiotic treatment for acute osteomyelitis is limited, allowing only weak (GRADE 2B) recommendations. Our review suggests that early transition from intravenous to oral therapy, after 3–4 days in patients responding well, followed by oral therapy to a total of 3 weeks may be as effective as longer courses for uncomplicated acute osteomyelitis. This recommendation does not apply to neonates.