Reactive arthritis (or “RA”) can be caused by recent ingestion of a foodborne pathogen that causes gastroenteritis. These cases of RA are called post-infectious RA because they are caused by the original infection. While rare, happening in less than 5% of the population, RA can be much worse than the initial illness and have life-long consequences.
RA causes joint pain and swelling that is triggered by an infection in a different part of the body, such as the intestines, genitals or urinary tract. RA can present in many ways but tends to targets the joints in a person’s knees, ankles, and feet. RA inflammation can also cause serious swelling or inflammation in the eyes, skin, and urethra. While it can come and go in a matter of months, it can also be a life-long condition and require a great deal of medical treatment.
Closely linked to reactive arthritis is Reiter’s syndrome, which also affects the eyes, urethra, and can impact knees, elbows, shoulders and ankles.
The underlying reaction that leads to reactive arthritis remains a matter of medical investigation and studies that are going on around the country. There is some evidence, however, that certain persons are more genetically predisposed to acquiring RA, and in fact, as many as 75% of those who suffer RA have tested positive for a genetic marker called HLA-B27.
There is much more certainty about the likely causes of RA, with strong correlations between RA and sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia trachomatis or Ureaplasma urealyticum. In the food poisoning field, most victims of RA get it following gastrointestinal illness secondary to shigella, E. coli, salmonella, yersinia, cyclsospora, or campylobacter bacteria.
There is no way to protect against RA caused by gastrointestinal illness except not to get food poisoning in the first place.
RA begins to manifest itself in the one to four weeks following the causative illness, such as Salmonella. The target zones include:
Doctors often fail to diagnose RA because of the diffuse symptoms and often focus on a very narrow diagnosis of the symptom they are treating, such as knee pain. Doctors are often not looking for a condition caused by food poisoning after the person has recovered from the direct gastrointestinal symptoms associated with food poisoning. A GI is most likely going to make the link, but input from a patient is vital, especially those who have read up on RA because they can then put the illness they are experiencing into context for the physician or medical treatment.
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