7 October 2020 marks the beginning of National Arthritis Week in the UK. Arthritis is a general term that refers to pain, stiffness and swelling in the sufferer’s joints. It is the biggest cause of pain and disability in the UK, and it is estimated that 10 million people suffer from the condition nationwide. Arthritis affects people of all ages, even children, although it is more common in older people. There are several distinct types of arthritis with a number of different causes.
One of the lesser-known types of arthritis is septic arthritis, which is caused by infection in a joint. This condition can affect any joint in the body, although it is most common in the hip and knee. It can be extremely serious and requires urgent treatment if symptoms are present.
Septic arthritis often arises due to an infection after injury or surgery, so patients should be particularly watchful for symptoms during their recovery period. Symptoms of infection include severe joint pain or swelling, the skin around the joint changing colour or getting hot, and/or feeling unwell with sickness, a high temperature or fever.
Septic arthritis is caused by a virus or bacteria in the joint. This can happen following surgery to the joint, or due to a wound or cut elsewhere, as bacteria can enter the bloodstream and travel through the blood supply to reach the joint.
Septic arthritis can affect anyone but the risk of infection is greater for those who have a weakened immune system due to pre-existing health problems or immunosuppressant medications.
Infection can spread and worsen very quickly, so it is important to seek medical help straight away when symptoms develop. Suspected septic arthritis is treated in hospital with antibiotics, usually given via an IV. Patients will often have to take oral antibiotics after they are discharged as well, to make sure the infection is completely flushed out and to prevent recurrence. On occasion, if the infection is deep inside the joint, surgery may be required as well as antibiotic treatment.
If septic arthritis is not treated, it can spread quickly and cause damage to the joint. This may lead to long lasting pain, loss of function and loss of mobility. In severe cases, septic arthritis can lead to septicaemia, which can be fatal.
The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper is currently investigating a case on behalf of a client who developed septic arthritis in his knee joint following a failure to diagnose a superficial surgical wound infection. The client underwent an arthroscopy to remove metalwork in his knee joint, which was inserted during surgery to repair a fracture following a motorcycle accident. In the subsequent weeks, the surgical wound became red, painful and hot to the touch. The client attended hospital and was given oral antibiotics, but by this stage the infection was severe and failed to respond. Several days later the client was admitted to hospital where he was initially treated conservatively with IV antibiotics, before finally undergoing surgery to clear out the infection from the wound. The infection once again failed to resolve, and began to penetrate the knee joint – at which point it became septic arthritis. The client received extensive surgery, and although the infection finally subsided, he subsequently underwent two total knee replacement surgeries. These surgeries failed to resolve the pain, stiffness and lack of mobility in his knee joint, and as a result he had to have his leg amputated above the knee.
The two defendant hospital trusts have admitted that there was a negligent failure to diagnose and treat our client’s knee infection at an earlier stage. The team is currently in the process of assessing the client’s needs and valuing his claim for compensation. He will require single storey accommodation, prosthetics and input from an occupational therapist.