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by Scholten A
(Acute Infectious Arthritis; Infectious Arthritis)

Definition

Viral arthritis is swelling and inflammation of the joints due to a virus. It usually goes away on its own after a few days.

Causes

Viral arthritis is caused by a virus. The virus travels through the blood to the joint. The immune system sees the virus ad attacks it. This leads to inflammation and swelling in the joint until the virus has been cleared.

Risk Factors

Viruses that are more likely to cause viral arthritis are:

  • HPV—Human parvovirus
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and hepatitis E
  • Human T-lymphotrophic virus type 1 (HTLV-1)
  • Certain viruses from mosquitoes, such as:
    • Chikungunya
    • Dengue
    • Zika
  • Certain herpes viruses, such as mononucleosis (Mono) and cytomegalovirus
  • Coxsackie viruses
  • Rubella or mumps

Symptoms

Viral arthritis often affects several joints at the same time. Joints in the ankles, toes, knees, hands, and wrists are most common. They may include:

  • Sudden swelling and pain in one or more joints
  • Fever and chills

Symptoms usually last 1 to 2 weeks and then go away. There is usually no lasting damage to the joints.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

There is no specific test to diagnose viral arthritis. Tests may be done to rule out other causes such as rheumatoid arthritis. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests—to look for abnormalities
  • Joint aspiration—fluid is taken from the joint by needle and tested
  • Imaging, such as x-rays— to look for joint problems

Treatment

Viral arthritis usually goes away when the infection clears. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. This may include:

  • Rest—to protect the joint
  • Applying heat and cold packs to the joint—to ease stiffness or inflammation
  • Medicines to ease pain
  • Joint drainage with a needle—to ease severe symptoms

The doctor may advise exercises after the infection has cleared. This will help improve joint movement.

Prevention

There are no guidelines to prevent viral arthritis. The risk may be lowered by taking steps to prevent certain infections, such as vaccines.

RESOURCES

Arthritis Foundation  https://www.arthritis.org  

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  https://www.cdc.gov  

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Arthritis Society  https://arthritis.ca  

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Arthritis, infectious: nonpyogenic. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed August 12, 2021.

Infectious arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/infectious-arthritis. Accessed August 12, 2021.

Infectious arthritis. Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine—University of Washington website. Available at: https://orthop.washington.edu/patient-care/articles/arthritis/infectious-arthritis.html. Accessed August 12, 2021.

Marks M, Marks JL. Viral arthritis. Clin Med (Lond). 2016;16(2):129-34.

Pathak H, Mohan MC, et al. Chikungunya arthritis. Clin Med (Lond). 2019;19(5):381-385.

Polyarticular arthritis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/polyarticular-arthritis-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed August 12, 2021.

Revision Information