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Septic (Infectious) Arthritis

What is septic arthritis?

Septic arthritis is an infection in the joint (synovial) fluid and joint tissues. The infection usually reaches the joints though the bloodstream, although some joints may become infected due to an injection, surgery, or injury. Different bacteria and viruses can infect a joint and usually are associated with a person's age. The following types of infectious organisms have been associated with septic arthritis:

The most prevalent sites of infection include the following:

Most infections affect only one joint.

What is a joint?

Joints are the areas where two bones meet. Most joints are mobile, allowing the bones to move. Joints consist of the following:

Examples of the hip and knee joints follow:

Anatomy of the hip joint

Anatomy of the knee joint

What are the different types of joints?

There are many different types of joints and they are classified according to structure and to how they move. Joints that do not move are called "fixed." Other joints may move a little, such as the vertebrae. Examples of mobile joints include:

Illustration of types of joints

What causes septic arthritis?

Many different types of bacteria can cause septic arthritis, as noted above. The most common type of bacteria is called Staphylococcus aureus, also referred to as S. aureus.

The bacteria can enter the body in a variety of ways. The most common routes of entry include the following:

What are the symptoms of septic arthritis?

The most common joints affected by septic arthritis are the knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The following are the most common symptoms of septic arthritis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Symptoms of septic arthritis may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is septic arthritis diagnosed?

Prompt diagnosis of septic arthritis is necessary to prevent permanent damage to the joint.

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for septic arthritis may include:

Treatment for septic arthritis:

Specific treatment for septic arthritis will be determined by your child's physician based on:

Septic arthritis usually requires immediate treatment with antibiotics which can improve symptoms within 48 hours. However, certain infections caused by fungi need treatment with anti-fungal medications, while viral infections usually have to run their course without treatment. To prevent accumulation of pus from the infection, which can damage the joint, pus may be drained with a needle, tube, or surgery. Other treatment may include:

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