Bone and Joint Infections

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Bacteria or fungi can enter the body and cause infection in the bones and joints, called musculoskeletal infections, bone infections or joint infections. These conditions most often occur in children younger than age 5. The board-certified, fellowship-trained pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, evaluate and treat bone and joint infections in children.

Treatment of bone and joint infections in children is important because the conditions can:

  • Spread to other organs and cause life-threatening illness
  • Cause damage to the growth plates, bones and joints
  • Cause chronic arthritis and broken bones

What Is a Bone Infection?

A bone infection, or osteomyelitis, usually is caused by a bacterial infection. Bone infections in children most often are caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. This is called a staph infection. The staph infection is carried through the blood to the rich blood supply that exists in a child’s growing bones.

In addition to staph infections, other types of bacteria can cause bone infections, including:

  • Community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA), spread by skin-to-skin contact
  • Group A Streptococci (pneumoniae and pyogenes), bacteria usually found in the upper respiratory tract
  • Group B Streptococci in newborns (passed from mother to child during childbirth)
  • Salmonella, which often causes gastrointestinal infections

Most of the time, the body’s immune system can stop these infections. However, if too much bacteria are in the blood, they can affect the bones.

Bone Infection Symptoms

The most common symptoms that occur with bone infections in children include severe pain and swelling in the infected area. Other bone infection symptoms can include:

  • Being unable to support weight on or move the affected limbs
  • Feeling extremely tired (fatigue)
  • Fever or chills
  • Soreness, warmth and redness near the infected area

Bone Infection Treatment

The pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases can create a treatment plan for a child based on their age, medical history and current health. Treatments for bone infections can include:

  • Antibiotics targeting the specific infection
  • Surgery for severe cases to drain abscesses (pockets of infected pus) or remove segments of infected or dead bone
  • Bone graft to replace infected or dead bone

What Is a Joint Infection?

Much like with bone infections, bacterial infections that cause joint infections, also called septic arthritis, usually reach the joints through the bloodstream. A bone infection also can cross over into a joint, usually in the hip, shoulder, elbow or ankle.

Joint Infection Symptoms

The most common symptom with a joint infection is extreme pain when the child moves the affected joint. The joint also may be warm, swollen and tender.

Joint Infection Treatment

The pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases can create a treatment plan for a child based on their age, medical history and current health. A joint infection must be treated to help prevent it from becoming a long-term condition. Antibiotics are the usual first treatment and may be given through the veins via an IV. With joint infections, a surgical procedure may be needed to drain the joint and prevent damage. Physical therapy also may be needed to help the child regain movement in the joint, as the joint can become stiff quickly.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases?

  • Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases specializes in the care of children from birth through adolescence.
  • With seven infectious diseases specialists and one nurse practitioner on staff, your child can be seen quickly, especially for urgent needs.
  • Members of our team are nationally recognized and have held or serve in leadership positions related to infectious diseases.
  • Our provider team is leading Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Children’s Medical Group in COVID-19 efforts, helping streamline infection prevention and providing patient care during the pandemic.
  • Our team provides inpatient consultation services at Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital, as well as telemedicine services throughout Kentucky. Our physicians also treat patients at UofL Hospital.
  • Keep up with your child’s lab results, communicate with your provider and schedule appointments through MyNortonChart.

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