Infectious Septic Arthritis - Causes, Symptoms and Treatments


Septic arthritis, a typically short-lived condition, is detrimental to your health and requires immediate medical attention. Also known as infectious arthritis, this condition occurs due to a variety of bacteria, viruses or fungi and is most common among the elderly, though some young children, as well as those with compromised immune systems, are susceptible.

To successfully treat this condition and prevent a more serious ailment, it is important to know the warning signs of this disease and to see a doctor as soon as possible.


Infectious arthritis is exactly that, an infection that causes a usually temporary case of painful inflammation in the joints. Unlike reactive arthritis, this disease does not originate solely because of bacteria, always requires treatment, sometimes in a hospital, and can permanently damage or even destroy the infected joint. In some cases, the infection spreads to multiple joints, particularly in patients who just had surgery, have weak immune systems, and in those considered high-risk.

Although anyone can acquire any form of septic arthritis, the various causes typically occur in specific populations. For instance, cases caused by salmonella are common in children or people with sickle cell, whereas drug users and the elderly are more prone to the E. Coli and pneumonia causing bacteria.

The general population is susceptible to cases related to Lyme disease, tuberculosis, gonorrhea and influenza bacteria, along with the hepatitis, parvo, herpes, HIV and AIDS viruses.

Fungal causes are more prevalent in people with occupational hazards, such as those who work in hospitals, with marine life or vegetation and in various outdoor environments.


Since septic arthritis has so many causes and can plague any population, it also has many signs and symptoms, each of which varies based on the infected individual and the underlying pathogen. However, some symptoms are common across the board and may include:

  • Pain and swelling at and around the infected joint, usually the knee, hip or shoulder
  • Chills
  • Unexplained feelings of sadness
  • Fever
  • Rash

In children, the hip joint is typically the diseased area and most of the time, only one joint possesses the infection, though in babies and toddlers, multiple joint infections are more common. Children also tend to lose their range of motion, are reluctant to put weight on the affected part of the body and can present with bone muscle inflammation as well since their joints are still developing.


To determine whether or not you have septic arthritis, it is necessary for your health care provider to pull a fluid sample from the affected joint. This sample goes to a lab to determine if any microbes are present and if so, the technician identifies the type of pathogen in the fluid and reports it to your doctor.

After identifying the underlying cause, your doctor can then determine the available treatment options and discuss those that may be best for you, based on your current and previous health conditions, as well as your age.


For all cases of infectious arthritis, medication and drainage of the infected joint is necessary, though the specifics depend on your particular situation.

Your doctor should start antibiotics prior to receiving your joint fluid test results but once identification of the exact culprit is clear, you should receive a prescription for a more specific medication, possibly even a combination of pharmaceuticals. The type of pathogen present and the severity of your condition also determines whether a simple drainage procedure is possible or if surgery is necessary.

In any case of septic arthritis, the one recommendation that is always consistent is to receive treatment right away because the longer you wait, the worse your joint becomes and the odds of destroying the surrounding bone and cartilage increases. An early diagnosis also reduces the likelihood for surgery, multiple medications and a hospital stay.

Joints Most Often Impacted by Infectious Arthritis

Knee Arthritis - generally a dull pain that gets better as you move it but sometimes too much movement results in more pain.

Hip Arthritis - is difficult to diagnosis at times, as the symptoms often appear as pain in the knee, groin, thigh or buttocks.

Spinal Arthritis - radiating pain and hunching over are common symptoms of this type of arthritis.

Hand Arthritis the deterioration of the diseased joints in your hand, wrist or fingers, your bone could begin to rub against other connecting bones.

Foot Arthritis - Another symptom is the partial or complete inability to move the affected foot during a flare up, as the swelling and pain make motion difficult.

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