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J Pediatric Infect Dis Soc. 2019 Jul 1;8(3):228-234. doi: 10.1093/jpids/piy034.

Clinical Features and Outcomes of Children with Culture-Negative Septic Arthritis.

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Center for Pediatric Clinical Effectiveness, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Division of Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.



Septic arthritis is a serious infection, but the results of blood and joint fluid cultures are often negative in children. We describe here the clinical features and management of culture-negative septic arthritis in children at our hospital and their outcomes.


We performed a retrospective review of a cohort of children with septic arthritis who were hospitalized at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia between January 2002 and December 2014. Culture-negative septic arthritis was defined as a joint white blood cell count of >50000/μL with associated symptoms, a clinical diagnosis of septic arthritis, and a negative culture result. Children with pretreatment, an intensive case unit admission, Lyme arthritis, immunodeficiency, or surgical hardware were excluded. Treatment failure included a change in antibiotics, surgery, and/or reevaluation because of a lack of improvement/worsening.


We identified 157 children with septic arthritis. The patients with concurrent osteomyelitis (n = 28) had higher inflammatory marker levels at presentation, had a longer duration of symptoms (median, 4.5 vs 3 days, respectively; P < .001), and more often had bacteremia (46.4% vs 6.2%, respectively; P < .001). Among children with septic arthritis without associated osteomyelitis, 69% (89 of 129) had negative culture results. These children had lower C-reactive protein levels (median, 4.0 vs 7.3 mg/dL, respectively; P = .001) and erythrocyte sedimentation rates (median, 39 vs 51 mm/hour, respectively; P = .01) at admission and less often had foot/ankle involvement (P = .02). Among the children with culture-negative septic arthritis, the inpatient treatment failure rate was 9.1%, and treatment failure was more common in boys than in girls (17.1% vs 3.8%, respectively; P = .03). We found no association between treatment failure and empiric antibiotics or patient age. No outpatient treatment failures occurred during the 6-month follow-up period, although 17% of the children discharged with a peripherally inserted central catheter line experienced complications, including 3 with bacteremia.


The majority of septic arthritis infections at our institution were culture negative. Among patients with culture-negative infection, empiric antibiotics failed for 9% and necessitated a change in therapy. More sensitive diagnostic testing should be implemented to elucidate the causes of culture-negative septic arthritis in children.


antibiotics; osteoarticular infections; pediatrics; pyogenic arthritis


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