Primary Septic Arthritis in Children Demonstrates Presumed and Confirmed Varieties Which Require Age-specific Evaluation and Treatment Strategies

Mary M. Klosterman, Mary C Villani, Elizabeth C. Hamilton, Chanhee Jo, Lawson A. Copley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: There is uncertainty involved in the evaluation and treatment of children suspected to have septic arthritis particularly when no causative pathogen is confirmed. This study evaluates children with primary septic arthritis to refine the processes of evaluation and treatment and improve the rate of pathogen confirmation. Methods: Children suspected to have septic arthritis from 2009 to 2019 were retrospectively studied. Diagnosis of primary septic arthritis, defined as hematogenous joint infection without associated osteomyelitis, was established by clinical evaluation, radiology and laboratory results, including joint fluid analysis. Excluded cases were categorized by etiology. Children with primary septic arthritis were divided into confirmed and presumed cohorts for statistical comparison. Results: A total of 355 children (average age 4.4 y, range 0.05 to 18 y) were initially treated as septic arthritis. Eighty-seven (24.5%) were excluded due to other conditions, including 34 (9.6%) with noninfectious conditions. Among 268 children with primary septic arthritis, 134 were confirmed and 134 were presumed. A higher rate of 16S polymerase chain reaction (PCR) acquisition (71.6% vs. 45.5%) occurred in the confirmed cohort. Overall yield for various methods of pathogen identification were 27 of 239 (11.3%) by blood culture, 83 of 268 (31.0%) by joint fluid culture and 85 of 157 (54.1%) by PCR. PCR identified a pathogen in 87.5% of children with confirmed septic arthritis. Antibiotic pretreatment was associated with a lower rate of joint fluid culture positivity. Pathogens aggregated within specific age groups. The 4 to 9-year-old age group displayed the widest spectrum of pathogens with limited predictability. Conclusions: This study emphasizes the need for systematic processes of evaluation and treatment for children suspected to have primary septic arthritis, including minimization of antibiotic pretreatment, age-based empiric antibiotic selection, and sufficient follow-up to ensure noninfectious conditions are distinguished in culture-negative cases. Extended observation, before intervention, may be appropriate for some children. Level of Evidence: Level III - retrospective control study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E27-E33
JournalJournal of Pediatric Orthopaedics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • clinical guidance
  • pediatric
  • presumed versus confirmed
  • septic arthritis
  • treatment strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Primary Septic Arthritis in Children Demonstrates Presumed and Confirmed Varieties Which Require Age-specific Evaluation and Treatment Strategies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this