Patient Care

Short Course of Oral Antibiotics Effective for Acute Osteomyelitis and Septic Arthritis in Children


By Mark Shen, MD

Reviewed by Pediatric Editor Mark Shen, MD, medical director of hospital medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center, Austin, Texas.

Clinical question: Is a short course (less than four weeks) of antibiotics effective for the treatment of acute osteomyelitis and septic arthritis?

Background: The optimal duration of treatment for acute bone and joint infections in children has not been assessed adequately in prospectively designed trials. Historically, intravenous (IV) antibiotics in four- to six-week durations have been recommended, although the evidence for this practice is limited. There is widespread variation in both the route of administration (oral vs. IV) and duration of this treatment.

Study design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Two children’s hospitals in Australia.

Synopsis: Seventy children ages 17 and under who presented to two tertiary-care children’s hospitals with osteomyelitis or septic arthritis were enrolled. Primary surgical drainage was performed for patients with septic arthritis. Intravenous antibiotics were administered for at least three days, and until clinical symptoms improved and the C-reactive protein levels had stabilized. Patients then were transitioned to oral antibiotics and discharged to complete a minimum of three weeks of therapy.

Fifty-nine percent of patients were converted to oral antibiotics by day three, 86% by day five of therapy. Based on clinical and hematologic assessment, 83% of patients had oral antibiotics stopped at the three-week followup and remained well through the 12-month follow-up period.

This study essentially involved prospective data collection for a cohort of children receiving standardized care. Although the results suggest that a majority of children can be treated with a three-week course of oral antibiotics, the results would have been further strengthened by an explicit protocol with well-defined criteria for the oral to IV transition and cessation of antibiotic therapy. Additional limitations include pathogens and antibiotic choices that might not be applicable to North American populations.

Bottom line: After initial intravenous therapy, a three-week course of oral antibiotics can be effective for acute osteomyelitis and septic arthritis in children.

Citation: Jagodzinski NA, Kanwar R, Graham K, Bache CE. Prospective evaluation of a shortened regimen of treatment for acute osteomyelitis and septic arthritis in children. J Pediatr Orthop. 2009;29(5):518-525.

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