Septic arthritis of the knee: the use and effect of antibiotics prior to diagnostic aspiration

Paul Hindle, E Davidson, L C Biant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Septic arthritis of the native knee joint and total knee arthroplasty both cause diagnostic and treatment issues. There is no gold standard test to diagnose a joint infection and the use of joint aspiration is commonly relied on. It is widely accepted by orthopaedic surgeons that antibiotics should be withheld until aspiration has been performed to increase the odds of identifying an organism. Patients often present to other specialties that may not be as familiar with these principles. Our study found that 25 (51%) of the 49 patients treated for septic arthritis of the native or prosthetic knee in our unit over a 3-year period had received antibiotics prior to discussion or review by the on-call orthopaedic service. Patients were significantly less likely to demonstrate an organism on initial microscopy (entire cohort: p = 0.001, native knees: p = 0.006, prosthetic knees: p = 0.033) or on subsequent culture (entire cohort: p = 0.001, native knees: p = 0.017, prosthetic knees: p = 0.012) of their aspirate if they had received antibiotics. The sensitivity of microscopy in all patients dropped from 58% to 12% when patients had received antibiotics (native knees: 46% to 0%, prosthetic knees: 72% to 27%). The sensitivity of the culture dropped from 79% to 28% in all patients when the patient had received antibiotics (native knees: 69% to 21%, prosthetic knees: 91% to 36%). This study demonstrated how the management of patients with suspected cases of septic arthritis of the knee may be compromised by empirical administration of antibiotics. These patients were significantly less likely to demonstrate an organism on microscopy and culture of their initial aspirate. There is a significant high false negative rate associated with knee aspiration with prior administration of antibiotic therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-5
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Infectious/diagnosis
  • Biopsy, Needle/methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint
  • Knee Prosthesis
  • Male
  • Microscopy/standards
  • Middle Aged
  • Prosthesis-Related Infections/prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


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