Of all the sources that new parents can look to for parenting advice, the stars of a cautionary reality show are probably not near the top of the list, to be honest. But here's one story that's worth a moment of your time: Teen Mom 2's Briana DeJesus' daughter had septic arthritis, a condition many people haven't even heard of, and according to baby Stella's mother, the 13-month-old "could have possibly died" from the little-known infection. Let's all take a moment to learn about the signs and symptoms, so we don't have to go through the harrowing ordeal that DeJesus did.
"Stella was sick ... with a fever of 104," DeJesus told Us Weekly, but last Thursday, a week after the original illness had cleared up, she noticed that the toddler was having trouble moving her left arm. "I thought maybe she had an accident at daycare," DeJesus recalled. She took Stella to the emergency room, where doctors gave her an MRI that revealed fluid in her joints. DeJesus said that the doctor told her "nobody really knows" how patients contract septic arthritis. "A simple bug bite or scratch can open up flesh and bacteria can travel." Stella required surgery to correct the problem, but luckily, she's expected to make a full recovery.
"I'm happy I ended up trusting my gut and taking her to the ER, as the infection could have grown and entered her bloodstream, and she could have become extremely sick," she told Us. "She could have possibly died."
To any parent who's ever been embarrassed about rushing their child to the hospital over a minor issue, this story certainly vindicates your "helicopter" tendencies. "I would tell parents to pay close attention," DeJesus advised, "and if something doesn't look right, take your babies to get checked. I'm glad I did, and that my baby is home, safe and recovering."
Obviously, there's a reason that the proverb "better safe than sorry" has never been usurped by "chill, it's probably nothing." But is a stiff arm always cause for concern? Are there other ways to tell if your baby has contracted septic arthritis? And better yet, how can parents prevent this infection in the first place? According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, septic arthritis, also known as infectious arthritis, is an infection that causes pain and swelling in the joints. It's caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection that spreads from another part of the body. In addition to inability to move the joint (or limb associated with it), as Stella had, other symptoms include intense pain, redness, and swelling in the joint, as well as chills and fever.
Kids Stella's age — particularly those in day care, AKA baby petri dishes — run fevers for a variety of reasons, so the temperature alone might not cause parents to sit up and take notice. This could make detecting septic arthritis tricky. Toddlers may be too young to articulate their symptoms, so it's a good idea to pay close attention to your baby's joints if they're running a fever, whether it's accompanied by a known infection or not, to keep an eye out for the telltale stiffness, redness, or swelling. Septic arthritis results from a reaction to another infection — anything from a bladder infection to a puncture wound — so if your baby's been diagnosed with one, be on the lookout for joint issues, just in case.
According to the Mayo Clinic, septic arthritis can "quickly and severely damage the cartilage and bone within the joint, so prompt treatment is crucial." Antibiotics alone won't cut it; doctors will need to drain the infected joint, either with a needle, or surgically, like in Stella's case. The best way to prevent septic arthritis, according to Harvard Medical School, is to prevent the primary infection. That means regular handwashing and avoiding sick people, staying on top of vaccines, avoiding ticks (because of the risk of Lyme disease), and for adults, practicing safe sex. If an infection has already occured, it's important to follow the proper course of antibiotics your doctor prescribed.
It's awful that little Stella had to go through this, but she's very lucky that DeJesus listened to her gut and got her the help she needed before any permanent damage occurred. And the silver lining is that now that she's shared their story, perhaps another child will be spared from a similar fate. Remember, you know your baby best. If something feels off, no matter how silly it might seem to others, it's better to be a little embarrassed for a day or two than to watch your child needlessly suffer.