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Surprising Science

Have We Finally Found What Killed Mozart?

The gossip mills go crazy for a celebrity dying before their time, and that was just as true in the 18th century as it is today. But instead of Michael Jackson, they had Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a new study claims that it might have finally found his mysterious cause of death: strep infection.

In the more than two centuries since the genius composer’s early death, people have thrown out all kinds of explanations for his passing. Some said he was likely the victim of antimony poisoning, as the toxic element was unfortunately used in medicine back then. And of course Amadeus creatively pointed the finger at rival composer Salieri.

But for a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers combed through the records created at the time of Mozart’s death and concluded that an infection by streptococcus, the same bacterium responsible for strep throat, might have done him in. Strep infections were far more common then than they are now, and more deadly. A wave of swelling similar to what Mozart had was racing around Vienna at the time, and could have been caused by kidney failure induced by streptococcus.

The research is far from conclusive, as piecing together the past in this way requires a lot of guesswork, and this centuries-old mystery will still endure. But we are reminded that not even once-in-a-generation geniuses can escape a superbug.


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