Gram stain microscopy in septic arthritis


septic arthritis ; gram stain ; joint aspirate ; prosthetic joint ; sensitivity

Published online: Nov 22 2021

Karam Al-Tawil, Frederick Quiney, Louis Pirkis, Nicholas Birkett, Aaron Rooney

Ipswich Hospital, Ipswich, UK


Septic arthritis is a serious condition that can lead to rapid destruction of joint if it is not rapidly diagnosed and treated appropriately. The reported annual incidence is 10 in 100 000 although this increases to 70 in 100 000 in those with risk factors for developing septic arthritis mainly rheumatoid arthritis and immune-compromised patients. The aim of this study is to examine the sensitivity and specificity, and thus the clinical usefulness, of gram stain results. This was a single centre, retrospective case series. All joint aspirates over a three year period from May 2015 to April 2018 were reviewed. The gram stain and final culture results noted. 830 samples were included from both native and replaced joints. Native joints accounted for a total of 701 cases (84%) of the aspirates, whilst those obtained from prosthetic joints 129 (16%). In 74 (9%) cases there was a discrepancy between the gram stain and culture results. The sensitivity of the gram stain in this case series is 22% and the specificity of the test is 99.6%. The clinician should have a low threshold for overlooking a negative gram stain result and place greater emphases on the clinical findings in conjunction with biochemical markers.