Strep Throat Killed Mozart, New Theory Argues

Doctors in those days weren't diagnosing streptococcal infection, or strep, specifically but by the description of swelling, pain in his back and the relatively brief illness, infectious disease specialists and medical forensic experts could easily see a connection.

"Most people who get a strep throat, it heals on its own. In a small percentage, there's always a concern of this happening," said Dr. Gregory Davis, professor of pathology and lab medicine at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington.

While most people fighting a strep infection make antibodies to target the harmful bacteria, Davis said some unlucky few might have an immune system that targets the kidneys as well as the bugs. When that happens, the kidneys can start to filter out necessary proteins, which help keep fluid in the blood, along with harmful toxins.

"It's your defense mechanisms going too far," said Davis. In the resulting swelling, Davis said "there are gradations from just a little puffy, from just total puffiness… like the Michelin Man."

Infection that May Have Killed Mozart Could Harm Today

Today doctors have antibiotics to stave off such complications from a bacterial infection. But infectious disease experts warn that strep can be deadly in modern times too.

"Even with antibiotics, patients can die from streptococcal disease," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief executive officer and president of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y.

"With all the antibiotics we have today there is still a mortality associated with it," said Glatt, a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Still, doctors and the authors of the study themselves don't believe this is the final word on Mozart's cause of death.

"This is all speculation of course, don't take it too seriously," said Steptoe.

Glatt agreed.

"It's one of those things -- it's fun reading, but nobody should take it as absolute fact," said Glatt. "No one should alter Mozart's death certificate here."

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