Diagnosing acute bone and joint infection in children
Theologis T., Brady MA., Hartshorn S., Faust SN., Offiah AC.
Acute bone and joint infections in children are serious, and misdiagnosis can threaten limb and life. Most young children who present acutely with pain, limping, and/or loss of function have transient synovitis, which will resolve spontaneously within a few days. A minority will have a bone or joint infection. Clinicians are faced with a diagnostic challenge: children with transient synovitis can safely be sent home, but children with bone and joint infection require urgent treatment to avoid complications. Clinicians often respond to this challenge by using a series of rudimentary decision support tools, based on clinical, haematological, and biochemical parameters, to differentiate childhood osteoarticular infection from other diagnoses. However, these tools were developed without methodological expertise in diagnostic accuracy and do not consider the importance of imaging (ultrasound scan and MRI). There is wide variation in clinical practice with regard to the indications, choice, sequence, and timing of imaging. This variation is most likely due to the lack of evidence concerning the role of imaging in acute bone and joint infection in children. We describe the first steps of a large UK multicentre study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, which seeks to integrate definitively the role of imaging into a decision support tool, developed with the assistance of individuals with expertise in the development of clinical prediction tools.Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2023;105-B(3):227–229.