Background: The standard treatment for septic arthritis in children is antimicrobials for several weeks (initially administered intravenously) and arthrotomy (at least for the hip and shoulder joints). No sufficiently powered study has examined the true need for these treatments.
Methods: In a randomized, multicenter prospective trial in Finland, children aged 3 months to 15 years who had culture-positive septic arthritis were randomized to receive clindamycin or a first-generation cephalosporin for 10 days or 30 days (intravenously for the first 2-4 days). The number of surgical procedures was kept to a minimum. Illness was monitored with preset criteria. Antimicrobial therapy was discontinued when the clinical response was good and the C-reactive protein level decreased to 20 mg/L. The primary end point was full recovery without need for further administration of antimicrobial therapy because of an osteoarticular indication during the 12 months after therapy.
Results: Of the total 130 cases, 88% were caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, or Streptococcus pyogenes; 63 patients were in the short-term treatment group, and 67 were in the long-term treatment group. The median durations of antimicrobial treatment were 10 days and 30 days, respectively. Surgical procedures that were more extensive than percutaneous joint aspiration were performed for 12% of patients, with no preponderance to hip or shoulder arthritis. Two late-onset infections occurred in 1 child in the long-term treatment group; however, all patients recovered without sequelae.
Conclusions: Large doses of well-absorbed antimicrobials for <2 weeks (initially administered intravenously) and only 1 joint aspiration are sufficient for treatment of most cases of childhood septic arthritis, regardless of the infecting pathogen or anatomical site, if the clinical response is good and the C-reactive protein level normalizes shortly after initiation of treatment.