Tuberculosis of the spine: a fresh look at an old disease.
The dismal outcome of tuberculosis of the spine in the pre-antibiotic era has improved significantly because of the use of potent antitubercular drugs, modern diagnostic aids and advances in surgical management. MRI allows the diagnosis of a tuberculous lesion, with a sensitivity of 100% and specificity of 88%, well before deformity develops. Neurological deficit and deformity are the worst complications of spinal tuberculosis. Patients treated conservatively show an increase in deformity of about 15 degrees . In children, a kyphosis continues to increase with growth even after the lesion has healed. Tuberculosis of the spine is a medical disease which is not primarily treated surgically, but operation is required to prevent and treat the complications. Panvertebral lesions, therapeutically refractory disease, severe kyphosis, a developing neurological deficit, lack of improvement or deterioration are indications for surgery. Patients who present with a kyphosis of 60 degrees or more, or one which is likely to progress, require anterior decompression, posterior shortening, posterior instrumented stabilisation and anterior and posterior bone grafting in the active stage of the disease. Late-onset paraplegia is best prevented rather than treated. The awareness and suspicion of an atypical presentation of spinal tuberculosis should be high in order to obtain a good outcome. Therapeutically refractory cases of tuberculosis of the spine are increasing in association with the presence of HIV and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.