Infectious Diseases

An Overview of Viral Arthritis



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When the body contracts a viral infection, a healthy immune system will seek to destroy the virus, thereby eliminating the illness.  However, sometimes the immune system’s response to the virus may cause joint inflammation.  In very rare cases this inflammation can cause permanent damage.   

Viral arthritis can affect both children and adults.  Close to 70 percent of the cases in children are asymptomatic, while joint pain symptoms occur in a majority of adults.   

Causes

There are several viruses that can cause viral arthritis.  Parvovirus B-19, which also causes “fifth disease,” is one of the most common viruses that affects roughly 60 percent of adults at some point.   Approximately 80 percent of adults who contract this disease will suffer joint pain, mainly in the foot, hand, knee, wrist and ankle joints. 

Hepatitis B can also cause severe inflammation not only of the liver, but of various joints.  Joint pain may last for several weeks or it may become chronic. 

With rubella, joints may not become inflamed, but can be stiff and painful nonetheless.  Joint pain caused by rubella can be short-lived, or may last several years. 

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can also be associated with various forms of arthritis.  Intermittent joint pain may be experienced by approximately 10 percent of HIV patients.

Some viruses, such as alphaviruses can be transmitted by insects, especially mosquitoes.

Symptoms  

Symptoms of viral arthritis are: 

Pain in the joints Swelling Stiffness Heat in the affected area Fever Chills Rashes Other flu-like symptoms such as headache, sore throat, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting

Treatment

There are various treatments available for arthritis sufferers.  For severe inflammation of the joints, aspiration of the joint may provide some relief to the pain and swelling.  Hot and cold packs and hot baths may also provide relief.  There are a variety of herbal remedies such as cat’s claw, astragalus, echinacea and ginseng which may help to boost the body’s immune system, thus helping to fight off the infection.  Lastly, getting the necessary rest that the body needs will also improve the body’s capability to resist the virus.

Although viral arthritis can be extremely painful and uncomfortable, it is generally not a permanent or long-lasting condition.  Along with the above treatment options, taking an over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help provide relief from the symptoms of viral arthritis. 

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