Septic arthritis is a painful infection of articular joints that is typically treated by irrigation & debridement along with antibiotic therapy. There is debate amongst the medical community whether antibiotic administration should be delayed until fluid cultures have been taken to improve culture yield. However, delaying antibiotics can also have negative consequences, including joint destruction and sepsis. Therefore, the purposes of this study were to determine: 1) whether delayed antibiotic treatment affects culture yield and prognosis and 2) if the culture yield of patients treated for septic arthritis differs for hip, knee, and shoulder based on timing of antibiotic administration.
A retrospective analysis was conducted on 111 patients with septic arthritis of the hip, knee, or shoulder admitted from 3/2016 to 11/2018. In patients with multiple septic joints, each joint was analyzed individually (n=122). Diagnosis was determined by the treatment of irrigation & debridement and/or a positive culture. Patients without all intervention times recorded or with periprosthetic joint infection were excluded. Demographics, laboratory tests, culture results, and intervention times were obtained through chart review. Patients were grouped based on antibiotic therapy timing: >24 hours prior to arthrocentesis (Group 1), between 24 hours and 1 hour prior (Group 2), and 1 hour prior to post-arthrocentesis (Group 3). Analysis was conducted using chi-squared tests.
The mean age of each group were similar: Group 1 (n=38) 55.7 years, Group 2 (n=20) 57.2 years, and Group 3 (n=64) 54.8 years. No difference was observed in culture sensitivity between groups (p=0.825) with 71.1% (27/38) positive cultures in Group 1, 75% (15/20) in Group 2, and 76.6% (49/64) in Group 3. Similarly, frequency of related readmissions within 90 days (p=0.863) did not significantly vary: 26.3% (10/38) in Group 1, 20% (4/20) in Group 2, and 25% (16/64) in Group 3. Additionally, there were no significant differences in culture sensitivity in the knee (p=0.618; Groups: 87.5%, 75%, 70.6%), shoulder (p=0.517; Groups: 77.8%, 66.7%, 90%), and hip (p=0.362; Groups: 61.9%, 80%, 80%).
Culture sensitivities and rates of readmission were similar for all patients regardless of antibiotic administration timing. These results suggest that antibiotic administration should not be delayed in septic arthritis to improve culture yield. However, the data does not suggest that early antibiotic administration will result in better clinical outcomes by lowering readmission rates. Further research is needed to better determine the clinical benefits that early administration of antibiotics may have on patient outcomes.