Osteomyelitis of the pubic symphysis caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus after vaginal delivery: a case report and literature review
Osteomyelitis of the pubic symphysis is a rare cause of pelvic pain after delivery, mainly caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The clinical context is the same as the more common diastasis of the pubic bone, but the presence of intense local pain in association with fever should prompt further clinical work-up based on blood chemistry, microbiology and diagnostic imaging. We report the first case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus osteomyelitis of the pubic symphysis occuring after the delivery.
A 39-year-old woman developed pain over the pubic bone 12 h after the delivery. After 72 h fever rose and laboratory examination showed elevation of C-reactive protein and procalcitonin levels. Pelvic x-rays and magnetic resonance showed pubic diastasis, joint effusion, tiny irregularities of articular surfaces and, severe bone edema. The patient was started on broad spectrum intravenous (IV) antibiotics (piperacillin-tazobactam) and then replaced to IV vancomycin and oral levofloxacin based on antibiogram result. She was then discharged with oral antibiotic therapy and fully recovered.
Due to the rarity of this disease, we compared our experience with the other cases of osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis occurring in peri-postpartum reported in the literature. The course of osteomyelitis was favourable in all patients, and only in one case an additional orthopedic procedure for symphysis fixation was necessary. Knowledge of this rare condition is important to enable prompt diagnosis and treatment.
KeywordsPregnancy Postpartum Pubic diastasis Septic arthritis Osteomyelitis Staphylococcus aureus
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
Magnetic resonance imaging
Methicillin-resistant S. aureus
Osteomyelitis of the pubic symphysis is a rare infectious disease associated with local bone destruction and frequent involvement of the joint (septic arthritis).
This infection is commonly caused by the opportunistic bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa). Typical clinical features are pubic and groin pain, pubic tenderness, fever > 38 °C, leukocytes > 11 × 109/L, and bacteremia. The main risk factors are previous female incontinence surgery, intense physical activity, pelvic malignancy, and intravenous drugs abuse, however, septic arthritis of the pubic symphysis may exceptionally occur as a complication of the postpartum [1, 2, 3]. Persistent postpartum pubic pain is quite common and may be caused by diastasis of pubic bone with the widening of the symphysis from 4 to 5 mm (normal value) up to 5 cm. The peripartum pubic separation occurs from 1 in 300 to 1 in 30,000 deliveries . Septic arthritis of the same site is an extremely rare cause of postpartum pelvic pain and only a few cases have been reported in the medical literature so far [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. We report the case of a 39-year-old woman who developed an osteomyelitis and septic arthritis of pubic symphysis caused by methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) after a normal vaginal delivery and compare our experience with other cases previously reported. Informed, written consent was received from the patient for publication.
A 39-year-old pregnanat (para 3) at 41 weeks of gestation was admitted to Sant’Anna Hospital with active labor. Her clinical history was notable for gestational diabetes mellitus. At 35 weeks of gestation, the patient performed a vaginal swab for group B streptococcus screening, and was negative. She delivered a macrosomic fetus of 4530 g without complications during the labor.
Discussion and conclusions
Documented cases reports of osteomyelitis of the pubic symphysis in peri/post-partum
Type of delivery
Eskridge et al. 
Vaginal delivery with shoulder dystocia required episiotomy, suprapubic pressure and McRobert’s maneuver
Pubic pain with ambulation starting 1 day after delivery; fever; leukocytosis
Diastasis of the symphysis pubis, erosion of pubic rami, vulvar edema
Intravenous (IV) ampicillin, sulbactam sodium changed to cefazolin and metronidazole
Lovisetti et al. 
Pubic pain starting 1 day after delivery; fever; ↑ erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), leukocytosis
Diastasis of the symphysis \pubis, bone rarefaction, suprapubic abscess
IV Mezlocillin, netilmicin
Stabilisation of the symphysis with a Hoffmann external frame
Gamble et al. 
Pubic pain with ambulation starting at 28 weeks of gestation; erythema and edema over the labia, mons pubis, and lower abdomen; low grade fever; normal complete blood count
Diastasis of the symphysis pubis, enhancing mass with a high T1 signal suggesting superinfected hematoma or abscess
IV vancomycin, levofloxacin, metronidazole
Ikpeme et al. 
Normal vaginal delivery
Pubic pain starting 8 weeks after delivery; low grade fever; ↑ ESR, normal complete blood count
Diastasis of the symphysis pubis, irregular erosion, lytic lesions
Antibiotics (not specified)
Dunk et al. 
Normal vaginal delivery
Pubic and groin pain starting 5 days after delivery, low grade fever, leukocytosis, ↑ C-protein reactive (CPR)
Reactive sclerosis, rarefaction, osteolysis and joint irregularity
Streptococcus group G
IV cefuroxime, metronidazole
Normal vaginal delivery
Pubic pain starting 12 h after delivery, fever, leukocytosis, ↑ CPR
Reactive sclerosis, rarefaction, osteolysis and joint irregularity
Lawford et al. 
Emergency cesarean section for fetal tachycardia with decreased variability and late decelerations to the cardiotocography
Groin pain, tenderness to palpation in the right iliac fossa with signs of peritonism, marked vulvar oedema and fever starting at 37 weeks of gestation; normal complete blood count, ↑ CPR
5 cm collection surrounding the symphysis pubis with extension into the soft tissues
IV ceftriaxone, metronidazole and gentamicin changed to flucloxacillin and cephazolin based on antibiogram results
Froberg et al. 
Normal vaginal delivery
Pubic pain starting at 12 weeks of gestation; normal complete blood count
Fluid within the symphysis, bilateral oedema of the pubic rami and bony erosions.
Staphylococcus capitis Cutibacterium acnes
Current case report
Normal vaginal delivery
Pubic pain starting 12 hours after the delivery; fever, leukocytosis, ↑ CPR, ↑ procalcitonin
Diastasis of the symphysis pubis, tiny irregularities of articular surfaces, pseudo-capsulated fluid collection within the symphysis, joint effusion
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
IV piperacillin-tazobactam changed to vancomycin and levofloxacin based on antibiogram, then after 2 weeks, oral combination of levofloxacin plus rifampicin.
No particular obstetric risk factors were reported for this disease: most cases were preceded by normal vaginal delivery. Only in one case the delivery was complicated by shoulder dystocia  and in two cases the osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis occurred after cesarean section [7, 10]. The pathogenesis of this rare peripartum complication is unknown. In one case, the onset of pubic pain was concurrent with submandibular cellulitis and the authors suggested a hematogenous origin of the pubic infection .
The most common pathogens involved in osteomyelitis were S. aureus and P. aeurginosa, a trend further confirmed by our case of osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis [6, 7, 8, 10]. Other pathogens reported in peri/postpartum were Serratia marcescens, Streptococcus group G, Cutibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus capitis, Staphylococcus epidermidis and Enterococcus faecalis [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. In our and previously reported cases of osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis, the culture tests were always positive for a pathogen while in 4 cases the total blood count was normal [7, 8, 10, 11].
All patients were treated with antibiotic therapy and only in 5 cases a surgical debridement was performed [5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. No patient had sequelae after the treatment and only in one case stabilization of the pubic symphysis by an external frame was required . Also in our case, antibiotic therapy alone was sufficient to achive a successful outcome.
Postpartum pubic pain is a common and self-limiting disorder requiring only symptomatic therapy in most cases. The distinction between the more common diastasis and osteomyelitis of the pubic symphysis is critical for prognosis and treatment; moreover, non-infective pubis osteitis can occur after delivery, which can cause mild fever and has similar X-ray findings to those of osteomyelitis creating a potential diagnostic pitfall . Local pain, inability to walk and fever are suggestive of an inflammatory/infective process, but the clinical suspicion should be confirmed by laboratory data, blood and/or local fluid cultures and imaging findings.
Puerperal endometritis, characterised by pelvic pain, uterine or parametrial tenderness, maternal tachycardia, foul-smelling lochia or maternal leukocytosis (> 12 × 109/L), should also be considered in the differential diagnosis . Regarding laboratory tests, in acute staphylococcal osteomyelitis, about 40% of patients presented with only a moderate leukocytosis count of (10.5 × 109/L considering a range of 4.5 to 11 × 109/L) and in up to 40% of cases, microbiological tests produced false-negative results . In 4 out of the 9 reported osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis cases, a normal blood count was observed, but culture tests resulted consistently positive.
Possibly, in predisposed subjects, the pelvic soft tissues trauma occurring during vaginal delivery or cesarean section can promote the colonization and the contiguous spread of some bacterial strains, moreover, the colonization of the genital tract in pregnancy by MSRA, with the risk of vertical transmission, has been described in the literature [13, 14].
In one case, the onset of pubic pain was concurrent with submandibular cellulitis suggest a hematogenous origin of the pubic infection .
Determination of serum PCT had been reported in a large series of osteomyelitis/septic arthritis, however the value often falls within a” gray zone” and false-negative results do occur, suggesting the use of a lower cut-off value to define positivity in this setting , however this marker may be more valuable than CRP for the diagnosis of this infectious disease , Paccolat et al evaluated PCT levels in pregnant women with no signs of clinical infection at different gestational ages; the authors suggest using a cut-off PCT level of 0.25 ng/mL to rule out infection during the third trimester, at delivery, and at the immediate postpartum , this is the first case of osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis in postpartum in which the PCT proved to be an useful infection marker.
Diagnostic imaging plays a crucial role in providing a correct framework for differential diagnosis of pubic pain. Transperineal or suprapubic sonography may be useful to reveal symphysis diastasis and show fluid collections, also enabling an ultrasound-guided needle aspiration for fluid aspiration or open bone biopsy with histopathologic examination and culture which are the gold standard for the microbiologic diagnosis of osteomyelitis. In our case, fluid aspiration was deferred because blood cultures were positive and consistent with radiologic findings. X-ray allows detecting symphysis diastasis, juxta-articular osteoporosis and bony erosions, but only in an advanced stage. Delayed signs of septic arthritis could be sclerosis, osteophytosis, and progressive joint destruction. The same abnormalities may be identified through computed tomography achieving a better evaluation of bony erosions, surface irregularities, abscesses and symphyseal diastasis . However, magnetic resonance is the most sensitive tool and it allows early detection of suspicious findings for septic arthritis such as synovial enhancement, perisynovial edema, and joint effusion. Specificity, however, is not high since it is difficult to distinguish between reactive edema and osteomyelitis . MRI also enables the identification of other possible causes of pubic pain due to postpartum complications such as pelvic hematoma or abscess, genitourinary injuries, and insufficiency fractures . Furthermore, MRI findings are helpful to assess the response to treatments, especially the amount of joint effusion and the presence of abscess are probably the most reliable factors for monitoring therapy efficacy in osteomyelitis/septic arthritis .
Based on the reported cases, outcome seems to be excellent in most cases if prompt treatment is established. Regarding the specific regimen for MRSA osteomyelitis, optimal duration of antibiotic therapy is still a topic of debate: the clinical guidelines by the Infectious Disease Society of America for the treatment of MRSA infection suggest a minimum of 8 weeks for osteomyelitis and a 3–4-week of therapy for septhic arthritis, but a precise duration of the antibiotic therapy has not been clearly defined [3, 23, 24].
In conclusion, postpartum osteomyelitis of pubic symphysis is a rare disorder, which should be considered in women presenting with increasing pubic pain that does not respond to painkillers. Broad spectrum antibiotics are the first line treatment and must be administered while culture tests are ongoing. Surgical debridement may be considered in case of non-response to antibiotics; nevertheless, in staphylococcal osteomyelitis, relapse can occur in up to 40% of cases after surgical debridement . Knowledge of this rare possible complication is necessary to enable prompt diagnosis and timely treatment.
We would like to thank Dr. Russo Arianna for the valuable suggestions to improve the manuscript.
Conception and design: SC, FB, CB. Acquisition of data: AC, AI, FF, TR, AM. Interpretation of data: All authors. Drafting the article: SC, FB, LB. Critically revising the article: SC, FB, LB, CB. Literature search: AC, AI, FF, TR, AM. Administrative/technical/material support: AC, AI, FF, TR, AM. Study supervision: SC, CB. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript.
No funding was sought or secured in relation to this case report.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
This a retrospective case report, the ethical approval was not required due to the retrospective nature of the study, as stated by our institutional review board.
Consent for publication
Written informed consent for publication of their clinical details and/or clinical images was obtained from the patient.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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