Preventing Infectious Arthritis – Rheumatic Diseases Center
You can come down with infectious arthritis in many different ways: a bug bite, another type of bacteria, a dirty needle. While some risk factors may be out of your control, many of them are not.
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 10/6/2011
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and you’re probably familiar with the more common forms such as osteoarthritis, which mainly affects people as they age. But infectious arthritis, also known as septic arthritis, is a potentially life-threatening condition that you should also be aware of.
People who have prosthetic joints or a weakened immune system need to pay particular attention to preventing infectious arthritis, a type of rheumatic disease. Engaging in certain risky behaviors, such as intravenous drug use, can also increase a person’s risk of infection, explains Kevin McKown, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Preventing Infectious Arthritis: Prosthetic Joints
If you have ever had a prosthetic joint replacement, you are at increased risk of infectious arthritis. Here’s how you can protect yourself:
- Make sure you inform doctors and dentists about your joint before any kind of procedure. You may be told, for example, to take antibiotics before a dental cleaning to prevent infection.
- Know the signs of infectious arthritis and seek immediate medical attention if you experience pain, swelling, redness, or warmth in the joint.
Preventing Infectious Arthritis: Immune System Disorders
Conditions such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS and certain medications, including steroids, make it difficult for the immune system to do its job and increase the risk of infectious arthritis. Take these steps to protect yourself:
- Talk to your doctor about whether you need to take antibiotics to prevent infections before invasive procedures.
- Regularly inspect your joints and skin for signs of infection. People with diabetes should pay particular attention to their feet and check for sores and cuts that may lead to infection.
- If you notice any sores that are slow to heal, inform your doctor.
Preventing Infectious Arthritis: Other Forms of Arthritis
People who have rheumatoid arthritis are roughly 10 times more likely to develop infectious arthritis than other people.
Damage due to rheumatoid arthritis itself makes the joints more susceptible to infectious arthritis. Additionally, steroid injections sometimes used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (and other types of arthritis as well) can contribute to the risk of the disorder. The needle used to inject the steroid into the joints can actually introduce bacteria directly into the joint space, leading to an infection. If you routinely receive steroid shots, talk to your doctor about all of the risks and benefits in your particular situation.
Preventing Infectious Arthritis: Other Risk Factors
- Travel. Animal, insect, and arachnid (spiders and ticks) bites can all lead to infectious arthritis, so take steps to minimize your exposure to these pests. Before traveling, do some research on the area to see what wildlife you may encounter.
- Injection drug use. Intravenous drug use is a common way to introduce foreign bacteria into your body, which can cause infectious arthritis. Injection drug users are at high risk of recurrent joint infections, which can be life-threatening.
- Other infections. Sometimes, infectious arthritis occurs when a person develops another infection, such as a bloodstream infection (also known as bacteremia) or bacterial meningitis. If you’ve recently experienced an infection and then have joint pain or swelling, talk to your doctor about the possibility of infectious arthritis.
Preventing Infectious Arthritis: Common-Sense Strategies
Regardless of your personal risk, there are steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of infectious arthritis:
- Eat a healthy diet. One of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of infectious arthritis is to lead a healthy lifestyle that supports your immune system — watch your diet and your weight. People who are obese or malnourished are at increased risk for infectious arthritis.
- Practice safe sex. Occasionally infectious arthritis occurs as a result of a sexually transmitted infection such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Use a barrier contraceptive method (latex condoms are the most effective) to prevent infections.
- Seek treatment for alcoholism and drug abuse. Heavy alcohol use or drug abuse can encourage other risky behaviors like unsafe sex that increase the risk of infectious arthritis.
Always seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that you have developed infectious arthritis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical to preserving joint function and preventing the infection from spreading further.