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What is Viral Arthritis?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Viral arthritis is a form of arthritis which is caused by infection with a virus. Like other forms of arthritis, this condition is characterized by joint pain, swelling, and weakness. It often resolves on its own, although there are some treatment options to make patients more comfortable and to reduce the risk of long term damage as a result of a bout of viral arthritis. This condition is especially common in children, but it can appear in all ages.

Many people have noted that some types of viral infections are accompanied with joint pain. The joint pain is caused by the immune system's reaction to the virus, with certain compounds leaking into the synovial fluid which surrounds the joints and causing aches and pains. In viral arthritis, the joints become inflamed as a result of the immune response, and the pain becomes more persistent and severe.

In some cases, viral arthritis accompanies an infection, making it easy to identify, and treatment for the infection usually resolves the arthritis as well. Other cases may present after an infection has been treated and successfully eliminated. A doctor can diagnose arthritis with a patient interview, in which the patient may mention the recent viral infection, and the doctor can confirm that the issue is viral arthritis. This condition can also arise as a response to some vaccines, especially rubella.

Mild cases of viral arthritis can be allowed to run their course. However, a doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the inflammation and swelling to keep the patient more comfortable, and analgesics may be recommended as well. The patient may also be encouraged to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat well to support the body while it heals. After the arthritis clears, gentle stretching and exercises can help resolve lingering stiffness in the joints.

In rare cases, the synovial fluid actually becomes infected, requiring surgery to drain the infected fluid. When viral arthritis turns septic, the patient may note that the joints are unusually painful, hot, or stiff, and they may appear red and inflamed. A doctor can take a sample of the fluid to check for infection and decide whether or not the fluid needs to be drained.

Patients should be aware that this condition can sometimes cause lasting damage to the joints, especially if it is recurrent, and it can develop into a chronic form of arthritis. For this reason, it's important to take good care of the body while recovering.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon949115 — On May 03, 2014

How long did it take to recover from the viral arthritis? I know a little girl presently in the hospital that is basically learning to walk again because they say that is what she has. Her joints and eye give her troubles some times too. Pain migrates to different places. Any of this ring a bell to any of you that suffered too or that are? It has almost been two weeks already so we keep hoping it will go away and she will not have lasting issues.

By anon246890 — On Feb 11, 2012

I currently have this. It is exceedingly painful and I cannot wait for it to pass.

By Andras — On Jul 24, 2011

I, too, had a case of viral arthritis. Mine happened along with a bout of human parvovirus. I didn’t even know humans could get that until I got infected! That led me to wonder what other infections came with viral arthritis symptoms.

I did some research and learned that viral arthritis can be a symptom of enterovirus, both hepatitis B and C, Mumps, human immunodeficiency virus, dengue virus, and rubella.

Viral arthritis can also happen after a child has been immunized against rubella. It is actually not uncommon as a cause of childhood joint pain.

By OhDeDoh — On Jul 24, 2011

I can sympathize with people who suffer from arthritis pain. When I was younger, I caught a virus that caused inflammation in my joints. It was very uncomfortable to say the least. I had to take high doses of ibuprofen and rest while the virus ran its course.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a situation where I could take antibiotics. I’ve been lucky that the viral arthritis has been an isolated incident so far. I certainly hope to avoid arthritis as I age. It is no fun!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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