Septic arthritis in children

Infectious or bacterial arthritis

Treating and providing aftercare for septic arthritis in children

What is septic arthritis?

Septic arthritis is a medical emergency and you should take your child to an emergency department should septic arthritis be suspected. It's caused by a bacterial infection in the joint space and may cause permanent damage if not treated immediately. It's most common in the hip and knees.

It's caused by bacteria which can enter the bloodstream through a cut on the skin and travels to the joints.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of septic arthritis? icon plus

    Parents should watch for the following symptoms in their child:

    • Acute pain, redness and heat in a large joint such as the hip
    • Pain and spasm when child tries to move the joint
    • High fever and rapid pulse
    • Tremors, dilated pupils and disrupted speech

    Babies may be irritable and refuse to feed. They may have redness in the joints, a racing pulse and obvious infection around the umbilical cord (where the bacteria may have entered).

  • Diagnosing septic arthritis icon plus

    If you think your child has septic arthritis, go straight to hospital. They'll be given a blood test and fluid will be drawn from the joints for testing. A consultant will look for signs of infection (increased levels of white blood cells) and staphylococcal and streptococcal bacteria, which cause septic arthritis. They will also examine your child's joints and look for symptoms of septic arthritis.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Your child will be treated with antibiotics, given through a drip. They'll be kept in hospital for around two weeks. This is to monitor the condition and to make sure pressure is taken off the joints.

    They'll be seen by an orthopaedic consultant, who may suggest your child needs fluid drained from the joint. This is done through an arthroscopy. After your child returns home, they'll be given a further course of antibiotic tablets. Your consultant will check your child's progress.

Our paediatric orthopaedic consultants

We're proud to work with leading orthopaedic experts who are experienced in working with children, managing many problems and conditions of the musculoskeletal frame, and whose skills are matched by their integrity and compassion.

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From complex medical and surgical procedures to diagnostic tests, we provide exceptional care for children across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

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020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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