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Mozart Died Of Strep Throat

August 18, 2009

A new Dutch study finds that complications of strep throat may have been behind the sudden death at age 35 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791.

Various theories for Mozart’s cause of death have surfaced over the years since his sudden passing at the age of 35, including suspicions he was intentionally poisoned or had suffered from rheumatic fever or trichinosis, a parasitic disease caused by eating undercooked pork.

His death certificate recorded hitziges Frieselfieber, or “heated miliary fever,” as the official cause of death.

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands said that until now studies of Mozart’s death have been based on somewhat shaky evidence, such as accounts written decades after his death from those who witnessed his final days.

The new study, however, was based on information obtained from official death registers for Vienna, where Mozart died, in the winter of 1791.  These documents place the composer’s death in a wider context.

“Our findings suggest that Mozart fell victim to an epidemic of strep throat infection that was contracted by many Viennese people in Mozart’s month of death, and that Mozart was one of several persons in that epidemic that developed a deadly kidney complication,” said researcher Richard Zegers, of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, during an interview with Reuters.

This “minor epidemic” of step throat may have originated in the city’s military hospital, said Zegers and his team.

Witness accounts say Mozart became sick with an “inflammatory fever,” consistent with strep throat, or streptococcal pharyngitis, wrote Zegers and his colleagues in their report.

Mozart, who composed more than 600 works during his life, ultimately developed severe swelling, “malaise,” back pain and a rash ““ all symptoms consistent with a strep infection leading to kidney inflammation known as glomerulonephritis.

It is also possible that Mozart had scarlet fever, which can also be caused by an infection with streptococcal bacteria, Zegers said.  However, this scenario is less likely since witness accounts said Mozart developed a rash near the end of his illness and with scarlet fever, the rash appears earlier in the course of the disease.

The study was reported Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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