Test characteristics of history, examination and investigations in the evaluation for septic arthritis in the child presenting with acute non-traumatic limp. A systematic review

BACKGROUND Septic arthritis is an uncommon but potentially significant diagnosis to be considered when a child presents to the emergency department (ED) with non-traumatic limp. Our objective was to determine the diagnostic accuracy of clinical findings (history and examination) and investigation results (pathology tests and imaging) for the diagnosis of septic arthritis among children presenting with acute non-traumatic limp to the ED.
METHODS Systematic review of the literature published between 1966 and June 2019 on MEDLINE and EMBASE databases. Studies were included if they evaluated children presenting with lower limb complaints and evaluated diagnostic performance of items from history, physical examination, laboratory testing or radiological examination. Data were independently extracted by two authors, and quality assessment was performed using the Quality Assessment Tool for Diagnostic Accuracy Studies 2 tool.
RESULTS 18 studies were identified, and included 2672 children (560 with a final diagnosis of septic arthritis). There was substantial heterogeneity in inclusion criteria, study setting, definitions of specific variables and the gold standard used to confirm septic arthritis. Clinical and investigation findings were reported using varying definitions and cut-offs, and applied to differing study populations. Spectrum bias and poor-to-moderate study design quality limit their applicability to the ED setting.Single studies suggest that the presence of joint tenderness (n=189; positive likelihood ratio 11.4 (95% CI 5.9 to 22.0); negative likelihood ratio 0.2 (95% CI 0.0 to 1.2)) and joint effusion on ultrasound (n=127; positive likelihood ratio 8.4 (95% CI 4.1 to 17.1); negative likelihood ratio 0.2 (95% CI 0.1 to 0.3)) appear to be useful. Two promising clinical risk prediction tools were identified, however, their performance was notably lower when tested in external validation studies.
DISCUSSION Differentiating children with septic arthritis from non-emergent disorders of non-traumatic limp remains a key diagnostic challenge for emergency physicians. There is a need for prospectively derived and validated ED-based clinical risk prediction tools.

as reported in: BMJ Open. 2020 Dec 30; 10(12): e038088