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The Clinical Usefulness of Polymerase Chain Reaction as a Supplemental Diagnostic Tool in the Evaluation and the Treatment of Children With Septic Arthritis.

INTRODUCTION: Culture-negative septic arthritis occurs frequently in children. The supplemental use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques improves the detection of bacteria in the joint fluid. This study evaluates the clinical utility of PCR at a tertiary pediatric medical center.

METHODS: Children with septic arthritis were studied prospectively from 2012 to 2014. Culture results and clinical infection parameters were recorded. PCR was performed whenever sufficient fluid was available from the joint aspiration. A statistical comparison was made for the rates of identification of the causative organism by these methods. A subgroup analysis was performed to assess the correspondence of clinical and laboratory parameters with the results of joint fluid culture and PCR.

RESULTS: Ninety-nine children with septic arthritis were enrolled consecutively. A broad range of parameter results was identified among these children with an average of 3.6 of 6 parameters per child that met thresholds of infection. Joint fluid cultures were positive in 34 of 97 (35.1%) children from whom they were sent. Among the 68 children from whom the material was sent for PCR, the result was positive in 32 (47.1%). The combination of blood culture, joint fluid culture, and PCR resulted in bacterial detection in 49 of 97 (50.5%) children. PCR improved the rate of detection of Kingella kingae markedly when compared with joint fluid culture. PCR results were available at an average of 14.6 days after the acquisition of joint fluid. 16S PCR results were reported at an average of 17.5 days, whereas Kingella PCR took 5.1 days.

DISCUSSION: PCR provides supplemental information for diagnostic confirmation through an increased rate of detection of bacteria. The timing of results and the inability to provide antibiotic sensitivity are factors that limit its clinical usefulness currently.

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