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A strep infection may have felled Mozart, but we have antibiotics

August 17, 2009 |  5:44 pm

MozartAustrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in 1791 at age 35 -- young by even 18th century standards. Historians have long theorized about the cause of death, attributing it at times to various fevers, poisoning, kidney failure and trichinosis.

Nope, say researchers in Amsterdam, Vienna and London.

They got together, analyzed his symptoms -- including some pretty remarkable swelling -- and the illnesses of the time and decided that the great man died of ... streptococcal infection leading to an acute nephritic syndrome caused by poststreptococcal glomerulonephritis.

In other words, strep.

The article was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Here's a Bloomberg News story. And a bit more on glomerulonephritis from Merck.com. (Blood vessel structures in the kidneys become inflamed; the body swells.)

As causes of death go, strep may not seem as exciting as the sometimes-popular theory that a jealous rival offed him. But in 1791, a strep infection was more dangerous than a fellow composer with a complex.

Here are the basics on streptococcal infection, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And what MedicineNet says of strep throat treatment specifically: "Because of potential significant complications, if strep throat is detected, it must be treated adequately with antibiotics. ... Streptococcus is highly responsive to penicillin and the cephalosporin antibiotics. Penicillin has shown good effectiveness, and it is reliable and cheap."

The first of these, penicillin, was discovered in 1928.

-- Tami Dennis

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