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Doctor Speculates Tainted Pork, Not Intrigue, Downfall of Music Genius

From Chicago Associated Press – Posted in Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 2000

Forget rheumatic fever, kidney stones, heart disease, pneumonia and even poisoning. What may have really killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were pork cutlets.

The latest theory about the composer’s untimely death on Dec. 5, 1791, at age 35 in Vienna suggests the culprit was likely trichinosis.

The illness is usually caused by eating undercooked pork infested by the worm, and could explain all of Mozart’s symptoms, which included fever, rash, limb pain and swelling, says Dr. Jan V. Hirschmann of Puget Sound Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Seattle.

Hirschmann offers as damaging evidence an innocuous little letter Mozart wrote to his wife 44 days before his illness began, as documented in a 1999 biography.

“What do I smell? ….pork cutlets! Che Gusto (What a delicious taste). I eat to your health,” Mozart wrote.

“If his final illness was indeed trichinosis, whose incubation period is up to 55 days, Mozart may have unwittingly disclosed the precise cause of his death – those very pork chops,” Hirschmann said.

His eight-page report, based on an examination of medical literature, historical documents and Mozart biographies, is published in the today’s issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Mozart died 15 days after he became ill.

His doctors offered only a vague cause of death – “severe miliary fever” – and no autopsy was performed. His wife, Constanze, reportedly said after his death that Mozart thought he was being poisoned, and rumors circulated that his enemies, including rival composer Antonio Salieri, may have done him in.

Since then, medical theorists have largely discounted foul play.

Hirschmann , an infectious disease specialist, said Mozart’s symptoms did match those of an unspecified epidemic disease going around Vienna at the time. Trichinosis wasn’t identified until the 1800s, when there were several deadly outbreaks in Europe.

Drugs since have been developed that can kill the worms and treat the symptoms, and fatal cases now are rare.



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