Patient Care

Children with Acute Hematogenous Osteomyelitis Have Similar Outcomes When Discharged with Oral Antibiotics versus Prolonged IV Antibiotics and Escape PICC Complications


Clinical question: After hospitalization for acute hematogenous osteomyelitis (AHOM), do children discharged with oral antibiotics have similar clinical outcomes compared to those discharged with home IV antibiotics?

Background: AHOM occurs in one in 5,000 children yearly and makes up approximately 1% of pediatric hospitalizations in the U.S.1 The incidence of AHOM might be increasing in some communities, concurrent with the increasing prevalence of community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA).2 Uncomplicated AHOM typically is defined as osteomyelitis not associated with trauma, with less than 14 days of symptoms and not requiring surgical intervention beyond diagnostic sampling.1 Most recent published studies support a seven-day inpatient course of IV antibiotics for uncomplicated AHOM, followed by 21 to 28 days of oral therapy for patients who continue to improve clinically.1 Significant variability exists in practice, with a recent study of free-standing children’s hospitals showing rates of transition to oral antibiotics after hospitalization for AHOM ranging from approximately 10% to more than 90%.3

Study design: Multi-center, retrospective, cohort study.

Setting: Thirty-eight U.S. children’s hospitals.

Synopsis: Researchers used clinical and billing data from the Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS) to identify children between the ages of two months and 18 years over a 48-month period who were discharged with a diagnosis of acute or unspecified osteomyelitis based on ICD-9-CM coding.

PHIS is a database of administrative, billing, and clinical details derived from hospitalizations at 44 U.S. children’s hospitals.

Exclusions from the study were numerous, and included:

  • Hospitalization in the six months prior with acute, unspecified, or chronic osteomyelitis;
  • Chronic cardiac, hematologic, immunologic, oncologic, or respiratory conditions that would increase the risk of treatment failure;
  • Transfer either to or from the hospital at any point during hospitalization;
  • More than one site of osteomyelitis;
  • Length of stay of less than two or more than 14 days;
  • Inability to take antibiotics orally or enterally;
  • Malabsorption disorders;
  • Primary diagnosis of cellulitis or septic arthritis;
  • Orthopedic hardware or bone fractures;
  • Prolonged immobilization or developed pressure ulcers; and
  • Osteomyelitis of the head, face, and orbits.

Local physicians and research assistants at each hospital site reviewed medical records to confirm the validity of the ICD-9-CM diagnosis, determine the post-discharge antibiotic details, review for return ED visits or readmission within six months, and extract culture results. Primary outcome was treatment failure, defined as revisit to the ED or readmission for a change in antibiotic treatment (type, dosage, or prolongation), drainage of abscess, debridement, bone biopsy, or conversion to PICC route. Secondary outcomes included a return to ED or rehospitalization for adverse drug reactions (vomiting/diarrhea, dehydration, C. difficile infection, allergic reactions, drug-induced neutropenia, acute kidney injury) or PICC complication (fever evaluation, PICC site infection, blood stream infection, sepsis, thrombosis, breakage, repair, adjustment, manipulation, or PICC removal).

Of 8,555 patients from 38 hospitals who satisfied inclusion criteria, 2,060 patients from 36 hospitals remained after application of exclusion criteria, with 1,005 receiving antibiotics orally and 1,055 via a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) upon discharge. Median length of stay was six days, and the percentage of patients discharged on oral antibiotics ranged widely at the hospital level, from zero to 100%. Patients were most commonly discharged on clindamycin (50%) and cephalexin (37%) in the oral cohort, and clindamycin (36%) and cefazolin (33%) in the PICC cohort.

The rate of treatment failure was similar in unmatched analyses of the oral cohort (5%) versus the PICC cohort (6%). This similarity persisted in across-hospital and within-hospital matched analyses. Rates of adverse drug reactions were low (<4%) in both groups, but 15% of the PICC cohort returned to the ED or were readmitted for a PICC complication.

Bottom line: Previously healthy children hospitalized with a single focus of AHOM have similarly low rates of treatment failure whether discharged on oral- or PICC-administered antibiotics. Patients discharged with PICC-administered antibiotics suffer from a higher rate of return ED visit or readmission due to PICC-related complications.

Citation: Keren R, Shah SS, Srivastava R. Comparative effectiveness of intravenous vs oral antibiotics for postdischarge treatment of acute osteomyelitis in children. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169(2):120-128.

Reviewed by Pediatric Editor Weijen Chang, MD, SFHM, FAAP, associate clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, and a hospitalist at both UCSD Medical Center and Rady Children’s Hospital.


  1. Majewski J, Del Vecchio M, Aronoff S. Route and length of therapy of acute uncomplicated hematogenous osteomyelitis: do we have the answers yet? Hosp Pediatr. 2014;4(1):44-47.
  2. Arnold SR, Elias D, Buckingham SC, et al. Changing patterns of acute hematogenous osteomyelitis and septic arthritis: emergence of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. J Pediatr Orthop. 2006;26(6):703-708.
  3. Zaoutis T, Localio AR, Leckerman K, Saddlemire S, Bertoch D, Keren R. Prolonged intravenous therapy versus eraly transtion to oral antimicrobial therapy for acute osteomyelitis in children. Pediatrics. 2009;123(2):636-642.

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