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Lyme disease (Chap. 181) due to infection with the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi causes arthritis in up to 60% of persons who are not treated. Intermittent arthralgias and myalgias—but not arthritis—occur within days or weeks of inoculation of the spirochete by the Ixodes tick. Later, there are three patterns of joint disease: (1) Fifty percent of untreated persons experience intermittent episodes of monarthritis or oligoarthritis involving the knee and/or other large joints. The symptoms wax and wane without treatment over months, and each year 10–20% of patients report loss of joint symptoms. (2) Twenty percent of untreated persons develop a pattern of waxing and waning arthralgias. (3) Ten percent of untreated patients develop chronic inflammatory synovitis that results in erosive lesions and destruction of the joint. Serologic tests for IgG antibodies to B. burgdorferi are positive in more than 90% of persons with Lyme arthritis, and an NAA-based assay detects Borrelia DNA in 85%.

Treatment of Lyme Arthritis

TREATMENT Lyme Arthritis

Lyme arthritis generally responds well to therapy. A regimen of oral doxycycline (100 mg twice daily for 28 days), oral amoxicillin (500 mg three times daily for 28 days), or parenteral ceftriaxone (2 g/d for 2–4 weeks) is recommended. Patients who do not respond to a total of 2 months of oral therapy or 1 month of parenteral therapy are unlikely to benefit from additional antibiotic therapy and are treated with anti-inflammatory agents or synovectomy. Failure of therapy is associated with host features such as the human leukocyte antigen DR4 (HLA-DR4) genotype, persistent reactivity to OspA (outer-surface protein A), and the presence of hLFA-1 (human leukocyte function–associated antigen 1), which cross-reacts with OspA.


Articular manifestations occur in different stages of syphilis (Chap. 177). In early congenital syphilis, periarticular swelling and immobilization of the involved limbs (Parrot’s pseudoparalysis) complicate osteochondritis of long bones. Clutton’s joint, a late manifestation of congenital syphilis that typically develops between ages 8 and 15 years, is caused by chronic painless synovitis with effusions of large joints, particularly the knees and elbows. Secondary syphilis may be associated with arthralgias, with symmetric arthritis of the knees and ankles and occasionally of the shoulders and wrists, and with sacroiliitis. The arthritis follows a subacute to chronic course with a mixed mononuclear and neutrophilic synovial-fluid pleocytosis (typical cell counts, 5000–15,000/μL). Immunologic mechanisms may contribute to the arthritis, and symptoms usually improve rapidly with penicillin therapy. In tertiary syphilis, Charcot joint results from sensory loss due to tabes dorsalis. Penicillin is not helpful in this setting.

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