A collaboration between Swiss and Canadian researchers has linked the presence of the bacteria K. kingae in children’s throats to bone and joint infections. Of 65 confirmed cases of bone and joint infections, the bacteria was found in 71% of patients, compared to only 6% of the control population.
Bone and joint infections, also known as osteoarticular infections, pose a threat to both “life and limb” according to the report. As such, the importance of this research can be seen through the perspective of a simplified and faster diagnosis: conduct a simple swab test to detect the presence of the bacteria in a child’s throat as a proxy for an infection in the bones.
There is evidence to suggest that K. kingae colonizes the throat first and proceeds into the bloodstream, from where it attacks distant parts of the body. Up until recently, it was difficult to study this bacteria, but improvements in detection are opening up new avenues for researchers.
Catching an infection before it can cause serious damage
With young children, it is far more problematic to perform a bone aspiration as part of a bone or joint infection diagnosis. A positive throat swab test could be highly indicative of an infection, so the more invasive direct bone testing can be sidestepped.
Granted, not all of the study’s patients with confirmed osteoarticular infections had K. kingae present in their system, so a negative throat swab doesn’t rule out all bone infections. Nonetheless, the strong correlation is a valuable find.
It has been reported that K. kingae is resistant to common classes of antibiotics such as beta-lactams and clindamycin, and both are commonly used to fight bone and joint infections. For doctors providing treatment, they will be better informed when prescribing the appropriate antibiotic with which to fight osteoarticular infections.
Historically, other bacteria types such as Staphylococcus aureus and Haemophilus influenzae were suspected to have a role in osteoarticular infections. However, studies show that these bacteria are often culture-negative, meaning that they are unlikely to become pathogenic and infect the patient.
Studies over the last decade from Europe and Israel linked K. kingae to osteoarticular infections, but the results had never been replicated in a North American context until recently.
The authors note that due to the small size of the test population, further study is required in North America to better understand how much of a threat K. kingae poses.