A minor cut or scrape can lead to septic arthritis in children

What is septic arthritis in children?

Septic arthritis is a painful infection that occurs inside of a joint, including the joint fluid (synovial fluid) or surrounding joint tissues.

“Septic arthritis in children is caused by bacteria that enters the bloodstream through another part of the body, typically after an injury that breaks the skin, or recent infection,” said Kent L. Walker, D.O., pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

How do children get septic arthritis?

Children can be naturally active, playful and more prone to injuries, and bacteria can enter a child’s bloodstream through something as minor as a scratch or scrape, which can lead to an infection or septic joint.

Septic arthritis is more common in immunocompromised patients. It is rare for very healthy children to get septic arthritis, according to Dr. Walker.

Septic arthritis also can be caused by other more serious injuries that have broken the skin, such as an animal bite, broken bone or recent surgical procedure.

Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville

Our pediatric orthopedic specialists provide specialized care for infants, children and teenagers.

What are the symptoms of septic arthritis?

Septic arthritis in children usually affects only one joint in the body. The most common sites of infection include the knee, ankle, hip, elbow, wrist or shoulder.

Symptoms of septic arthritis can appear suddenly and progress rapidly. Extreme discomfort or difficulty using the affected joint can set in within several hours. In addition to joint pain and swelling, other symptoms may include redness and/or warmth around the site of the joint, limping or refusing to put pressure on a limb or joint, and other common signs of infection, including fever, nausea, headache and loss of appetite.

Is septic arthritis an emergency?

Delayed treatment of septic arthritis can lead to permanent joint damage. Therefore, quick intervention by a medical professional is necessary.

Diagnosis may involve blood tests, bacterial cultures, X-rays, ultrasound or MRI. Treatments include antibiotics, draining the joint or surgery.