Septic arthritis is inflammation of a joint due to a bacterial or fungal infection. Septic arthritis that is due to the bacteria that cause gonorrhea has different symptoms and is also called gonococcal arthritis.
Septic arthritis develops when bacteria or other tiny disease-causing organisms (microorganisms) spread through the blood to a joint. It may also occur when the joint is directly infected with a microorganism from an injury or during surgery. Joints that are commonly affected are the knee and hip.
Most cases of acute septic arthritis are caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus or Streptococcus.
Chronic septic arthritis (which is less common) is caused by organisms such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Candida albicans.
The following conditions increase your risk for septic arthritis:
Septic arthritis may be seen at any age. In children, it occurs most often in those younger than 3 years. The hip is often the site of infection in infants.
Septic arthritis is uncommon from age 3 to adolescence. Children with septic arthritis are more likely than adults to be infected with Group B streptococcus or Haemophilus influenza, if they have not been vaccinated.
Symptoms in newborns or infants:
Symptoms in children and adults:
Chills may occur, but are uncommon.
Antibiotics are used to treat the infection.
Resting, keeping the joint still, raising the joint, and using cool compresses may help relieve pain. Exercising the affected joint helps the recovery process.
If joint (synovial) fluid builds up quickly due to the infection, a needle may be inserted into the joint often to aspirate the fluid. Severe cases may need surgery to drain the infected joint fluid.
Recovery is good with prompt antibiotic treatment. If treatment is delayed, permanent joint damage may result.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of septic arthritis.
Preventive (prophylactic) antibiotics may be helpful for people at high risk.
Bacterial arthritis; Non-gonococcal bacterial arthritis
Cook PP, Siraj DS. Bacterial arthritis. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al., eds. Kelly's Textbook of Rheumotology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 109.
Kaplan SL. Septic arthritis. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 677.
Updated by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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