Merck Manual

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Infectious Arthritis

(Joint Infection)

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Aug 2019
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What is infectious arthritis?

Arthritis is inflammation in a joint. There are many types of arthritis. Infectious arthritis is arthritis caused by a bacterial infection in a joint.

  • Your joint can get infected if another infection in your body spreads to the joint, or if your joint gets infected during surgery or from an injury

  • Usually only one large joint, such as your knee or shoulder, is affected

  • Your joint will be swollen, red, and sore, and you may have a fever

  • If left untreated, infectious arthritis can damage your joint

  • Doctors treat the infection with antibiotics and sometimes surgery to drain pus out of your joint

What causes infectious arthritis?

A joint can get infected from:

  • A cut, bite, or puncture wound over a joint

  • A skin infection close to a joint

  • Surgery on a joint

  • Gonorrhea that spreads to your joints

You're more likely to get infectious arthritis if you:

What are the symptoms of infectious arthritis?

Joint infection usually begins quickly. Your joint gets:

  • Very painful

  • Red and warm

  • Swollen and stiff

Sometimes, you get fever and chills.

In infants and children too young to talk, it can be hard to tell what's bothering them, but symptoms may include:

  • Not moving the infected joint

  • Being irritable

  • Refusing to eat

  • Fever

  • Refusing to walk if the infected joint is in a leg

How can doctors tell if I have infectious arthritis?

Doctors will:

  • Take a sample of fluid out of your joint with a needle to do tests

To tell what caused your joint infection, doctors may do:

How do doctors treat infectious arthritis?

Doctors treat infectious arthritis with:

  • Antibiotics or antifungal medicine

  • Taking the pus out of your joint with a needle or, sometimes, surgery

  • A splint on the joint, followed by physical therapy

  • Over-the-counter pain medicine, such as aspirin or ibuprofen

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
ADVIL, MOTRIN IB
No US brand name
NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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