The presence of a particular germ in kids' throats may also mean they have the same infection in their bones or joints, researchers report.
The new findings could lead to improved treatments for the potentially devastating and deadly infections, the researchers said.
Scientists previously believed that most bone and joint infections in children were caused by several types of bacteria, including Staphylococcus and Streptococcus.
Now, scientists are able to do a better job of identifying the germs that cause the infections, including the one that's the focus of the new study -- Kingella kingae.
For the study in the Sept. 5 issue of CMAJ, researchers examined 77 kids in Canada and Switzerland. The children were 6 months to 4 years old and confirmed to have bone or joint infections. The investigators compared them to almost 300 other children.
"Using improved diagnostic methods, our study found that the vast majority of children younger than 4 years old suffering from a bone or joint infection were infected by Kingella kingae bacteria," said study author Dr. Jocelyn Gravel of the University of Montreal.
"More importantly, we discovered that 70 percent of children who had a bone/joint infection carried these bacteria in their throats, while it is uncommon in uninfected children -- in only 6 percent," she said in a journal news release.
The researchers said they can use this information to develop better treatments for children with bone or joint infections.
"Based on this study, we plan to change the way we investigate children at risk of bone/joint infection, because the identification of K. kingae in the throat of a child with a suspected bone infection will point towards K. kingae as the culprit," Gravel said.
"This may decrease the number of other tests performed to identify the pathogen," she said.
Antibiotics are a common treatment for bone and joint infections in children, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It can take several weeks for the infections to clear up, and surgery may be necessary in some cases.
For more about bone and joint infections in kids, visit the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
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