Background: To assess the impact of recent reports of disseminated gonococcal infection caused by penicillin-resistant organisms, we reviewed the presenting features, clinical course, and outcomes of a group of patients with gonococcal arthritis treated in recent years.
Methods: We reviewed the records of all cases of acute arthritis associated with a culture positive for Neisseria gonorrhoeae at our institution from July 1985 through December 1991.
Results: Forty-one cases were identified. Patients included 34 women and 38 blacks; the mean age was 22.6 years. Duration of symptoms averaged 4.8 days at presentation. Other features included migratory arthralgias (n = 27), urogenital symptoms or signs (n = 26), fever (n = 21), and skin lesions (n = 16). Comorbid conditions included intravenous drug use (n = 8) and systemic lupus erythematosus (n = 3). The knee was the most commonly affected joint. Positive culture results were obtained from 32 urogenital samples (86%), 14 synovial fluid samples (44%), seven rectal samples (39%), four blood samples (12%), and two throat samples (7%). All synovial fluid samples with positive culture results had white blood cell counts higher than 20.0 x 10(9)/L. Response to therapy with penicillin and/or ceftriaxone was prompt, and mean duration of hospitalization was 5.8 days. Patients who required longer hospitalization had a higher mean erythrocyte sedimentation rate and higher frequencies of positive synovial fluid culture results and comorbid conditions. Penicillin sensitivity could be determined in 30 patients on the basis of clinical response or in vitro testing. Among these patients, two cases of penicillin-resistant organisms were identified, one beta-lactamase positive and one beta-lactamase negative.
Conclusions: The clinical features of patients with gonococcal arthritis have changed very little since the last large reported series over a decade ago. Underlying conditions appear to be more common, but response to antibiotic therapy and eventual outcome remain excellent. The finding of penicillin-resistant organisms in at least 5% of patients reinforces recent recommendations that third-generation cephalosporin agents be used as initial therapy for disseminated gonococcal infections until drug susceptibilities are known.