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Clinical features and outcome of septic arthritis in a single UK Health District 1982-1991.

AIMS: To determine the clinical features of a large number of unselected UK hospital patients with confirmed septic arthritis and to determine those features associated with a poor outcome.

STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective, case-note survey.

SETTING: A single English Health District.

PATIENTS: All patients admitted to hospital in Nottingham during the period 1 January 1982 to 31 December 1991 with confirmed septic arthritis were included.

OUTCOME MEASURES: Death, osteomyelitis and recorded functional impairment.

RESULTS: The spectrum of causative organisms remains similar to that seen in previous studies with the Gram positive organisms Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococci responsible for 74% of cases, gonococcal infections though were less common. Culture of joint aspirates and or blood were positive in 82% of cases, with the Gram stain demonstrating the causative organism in 50% of cases. Pre-existing joint disease was evident in 35% of cases. The mortality remains high at 11.5% with a significant additional morbidity of 31.6%. Multivariate analysis suggests that important predictors of death are: confusion at presentation, age > or = 65 years, multiple joint sepsis or involvement of the elbow joint, and of morbidity are: age > or = 65 years, diabetes mellitus, open surgical drainage, and Gram positive infections other than S aureus.

CONCLUSIONS: Septic arthritis continues to be associated with a considerable degree of morbidity and mortality. These results confirm the importance of obtaining synovial fluid and blood for culture before starting antimicrobial treatment. The apparent poorer outcome found with surgical intervention is in line with some previous suggestions but should be interpreted with caution in light of the retrospective nature of this study.

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