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Mozart's Sore Throat

In 1791, arguably the world’s most gifted composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, died at the very young age of 35. His death was rumored to have been caused by poisoning by Antonio Salieri, a court composer in Austria who was jealous of Mozart’s great talent and success.

In 1823, 22 years after Mozart’s death, Salieri, who was then in a mental institution, claimed that he poisoned Mozart. Several years later on his deathbed, he strongly denied having killed Mozart, and today, no serious researcher believes that Mozart was poisoned by Salieri because his symptoms during the week before his death were that of a classic disease that can be cured today.

NAME THE DISEASE: Let’s see if you can name that disease. On Nov. 20, 1791, Mozart developed *high fever, *headache, *a rash, and *pain and swelling in his arms and legs. He was alert and lucid, but in the second week of his illness, he began vomiting and had diarrhea. His body became swollen with fluid, causing his clothes to squeeze his body. He was too weak to sit up in bed without help, and he complained of severe shortness of breath. Then he died.

INFECTION: Now let’s put his symptoms into one diagnosis. He must have had an infection because of his fever, headache and sore throat. Then he went into heart failure because he retained fluid, causing his body, arms and legs to swell.

Most likely, the red rash was caused by the erythrotoxin produced by a beta strep, group A, that causes a sore throat and then . . . rheumatic fever. Adults who die from rheumatic fever have a long history of recurrent attacks because each time they are infected with strep, they develop fever, sore throat, headache, a red rash and more heart damage.

RECURRING DISEASE: According to Mozart’s father, Leopold, Mozart suffered three attacks of serious upper respiratory infections in childhood, that damaged his heart. At age six he developed rheumatic fever, which was most likely a result of his strep infections. Two years later, at age eight, Mozart suffered a sore throat that made him so sick that he stayed in bed for several months. That attack was caused by another strep infection called tonsillitis. He suffered a third bout with rheumatic fever, at age ten, in 1766.

At ages 28 and 31, he suffered his fourth and fifth severe prolonged attacks. Mozart died from rheumatic fever affecting his heart, and then the same group A strep damaged his kidneys, causing them to fail so his body swelled with fluid. Beta strep group A bacteria cause both heart and kidney damage. Each successive infection with beta strep further weakens the heart, and the last serious strep infection was more than his heart could stand.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SORE THROATS: When you go to the doctor with a persistent sore throat, he should do a throat culture. If you have beta strep, you should receive antibiotics. A child with rheumatic fever may be kept on antibiotics continuously until he or she is 18 years old because every subsequent infection with beta strep can cause further damage to the heart and kidneys.

November 11th, 2012
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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