Introduction: Early treatment with antibiotics is advocated in the management of septic arthritis. Whilst some argue for mandatory arthrotomy we have used arthrotomy selectively. The results of this approach over a ten year period were reported 20-years ago.
Aim: To review the outcome of joint aspiration and selective rather than mandatory arthrotomy for the management of septic arthritis in children.
Method: We compared the outcome for cases of septic arthritis in children reported from this centre in the decade 1982–1991 (Group I) with a contemporary cohort, from 1997–2006 (Group II) using the same criteria for diagnosis and the same treatment principles.
Results: Group I comprised 61 children, Group II 42. The mean incidence of septic arthritis in children (<13 years old) was similar for Groups I and II (2.9/100,000 and 3.1/100,000). Infection caused by Haemophilus species declined from 10 of 56 (18%) in Group I to none in Group II. Staphylococcus Aureus reduced from 27/56(48%) in Group I to 13(31%) in Group II. As previously, infections particularly of the infant hip were at highest risk of causing permanent joint damage. There were eleven (18%) sequellae in Group I and two (5%) in group II.
Conclusions: These results continue to support joint aspiration for the management of early acute septic arthritis in children. However involvement of the hip in infants requires arthrotomy, as does late (≥4 days) diagnosis in older children.
Correspondence should be addressed to BSCOS c/o BOA, at the Royal College of Surgeons, 35–43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PE, England.