Health A-Z

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Because many bacterial infections can permanently destroy cartilage around joints, a joint infected with bacteria needs to be treated immediately with antibiotics.

Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics and most will go away on their own. However, antiviral therapies are available for some viral infections, such as hepatitis C and HIV. Aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brand names) can be taken to alleviate pain and swelling during the time it takes for the infection to go away. Viral infections usually do not cause joint damage.

If you have a bacterial infection, you probably will be hospitalized so the infected joint can be drained, you can receive antibiotics intravenously (into a vein) and you can rest the joint.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove damaged tissue from the joint. If serious damage already has occurred, surgery may be needed to reconstruct the joint. Surgery is rarely necessary for arthritis associated with gonorrhea or viral infection.

Reactive arthritis may be treated with other medicines, but only after the infection has been cured. These medicines include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, methotrexate (Folex, Methotrexate LPF, Rheumatrex) and sulfasalazine (Azulfidine).

While the joint is recovering from the infection, it may need to be immobilized briefly with a brace or splint. As soon as possible, however, exercise and physical therapy are recommended to restore strength and mobility.

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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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