Septic arthritis in adults with sickle cell disease often is associated with osteomyelitis or osteonecrosis

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2010 Jun;468(6):1676-81. doi: 10.1007/s11999-009-1149-3. Epub 2009 Nov 3.


Background: Septic arthritis is a known complication of sickle cell disease (SCD) in children, and the association with osteomyelitis and osteonecrosis has been described. However, it is unclear whether this association applies to adults.

Questions/purposes: We therefore asked whether septic arthritis is a frequent complication in adults with SCD and whether it also is associated with osteomyelitis or osteonecrosis.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed the charts of 2000 consecutive adult patients diagnosed with SCD and recorded symptoms, select findings during physical examination, laboratory data, and select radiographic CT, and MRI observations.

Results: Fifty-nine of the 2000 patients (3%) had septic arthritis, 56 of the 59 patients had hemoglobin SS. Thirty-six of the 59 infections (61%) were in the hip. The most frequent findings were pain, swelling, fever greater than 38.2 degrees C (71% of cases), a leukocyte count exceeding 15,000/mm(3) (range, 7900-32,300/mm(3)), a Westergren sedimentation rate greater than 24 mm/hour, and C-reactive protein exceeding 20 mg/L. Cultures were positive in 96% of the joint aspirates. Staphylococcus and Gram-negative infection predominated; no patients had Salmonella joint infections. Preexisting factors of bacterial arthritis included osteonecrosis (29 patients) and osteomyelitis (37 cases) in childhood. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, glucocorticoids, and immunoparesis related to medical treatment by hydroxyurea were associated comorbidities. CT and MRI confirmed the diagnosis of associated osteonecrosis or osteomyelitis and allowed joint aspiration and detection of soft tissue abscess.

Conclusions: The incidence of septic arthritis in adults with SCD is low, but often is associated with osteomyelitis or osteonecrosis.

Level of evidence: Level II, prognostic study. See Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications*
  • Arthritis, Infectious / diagnosis
  • Arthritis, Infectious / microbiology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Osteomyelitis / complications
  • Osteomyelitis / diagnosis
  • Osteomyelitis / microbiology*
  • Osteonecrosis / complications
  • Osteonecrosis / diagnosis
  • Osteonecrosis / microbiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Young Adult