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Symptoms

Symptoms of infectious arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness, typically in the knee, shoulder, ankle, finger, wrist or hip

  • Warmth and redness around the joint

  • Fever and shaking chills

  • Skin rash

Other symptoms vary, depending on the cause. Some more common causes of infectious arthritis include:

Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that live in deer ticks and are transmitted through a tick bite into a person's bloodstream.

Because the tick bite often goes unnoticed and the rash may be overlooked, Lyme disease is not always diagnosed immediately. When the infection is not treated, further symptoms may develop, including joint inflammation (most commonly in the knee). Arthritis typically develops in the later stages of Lyme disease.

Gonorrhea
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can cause pain in one or more joints or tendons and sometimes a rash and fever. About one-third of people with gonorrhea report joint pain.

Staphylococcus Infection
Staphylococcus bacteria are common bacteria that can cause infections through cuts or other breaks in the skin, or through contaminated food. The bacteria can be released in the bloodstream and spread to the knee or other joints, causing intense and sudden pain, swelling and immobility of the joint. This is a serious condition because joint damage can develop within days if the infection is not found and treated quickly.

Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. It usually affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract, nerves, lymph system and skin, as well as bones and joints. Arthritis caused by tuberculosis usually affects either the spine or large joints, such as the hips or knees. The joint inflammation caused by tuberculosis tends to be less dramatic than inflammation caused by some other bacterial infections, and it develops slowly.

Viruses
Arthritis can be caused from infection by many viruses, including those that cause colds, upper respiratory infections, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, parvovirus, rubella and mumps. Many joints can be affected at the same time, and the symptoms of viral infectious arthritis can be similar to the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, viral arthritis symptoms usually disappear within days or weeks if the disease causing the problem goes away. HIV and some forms of viral hepatitis may cause chronic (long-lasting) infection and longer-lasting joint symptoms.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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