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Reactive arthritis is one of the spondyloarthropathy family of clinical syndromes. The clinical features are those shared by other members of the spondyloarthritis family, though it is distinguished by a clear relationship with a precipitating infection. Susceptibility to reactive arthritis is closely linked with the class 1 HLA allele B27; it is likely that all sub-types pre-dispose to this condition. The link between HLA B27 and infection is mirrored by the development of arthritis in HLA B27-transgenic rats. In this model, arthritis does not develop in animals maintained in a germ-free environment. Infections of the gastrointestinal, genitourinary and respiratory tract appear to provoke reactive arthritis and a wide range of pathogens has now been implicated. Although mechanistic parallels may exist, reactive arthritis is distinguished from
Lyme disease, rheumatic fever and Whipple’s
disease by virtue of the distinct clinical features and the link with HLA B27. As in these conditions both antigens and DNA of several micro-organisms have been detected in joint material from patients with reactive arthritis. The role of such disseminated microbial elements in the provocation or maintenance of arthritis remains unclear. HLA B27-restricted T-cell responses to microbial antigens have been demonstrated and these may be important in
disease pathogenesis. The importance of dissemination of bacteria from sites of mucosal infection and their deposition in joints has yet to be fully understood. The role of antibiotic therapy in the treatment of reactive arthritis is being explored; in some circumstances, both the anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects of certain antibiotics appear to be valuable. The term reactive arthritis should be seen as a transitory one, reflecting a concept which may itself be on the verge of replacement, as our understanding of the condition develops. Nevertheless it appropriately describes arthritis that is associated with demonstrable infection at a distant site without traditional evidence of sepsis at the affected joint(s). Although several forms of
disease could be described as "reactive", particularly acute rheumatic fever, post-meningococcal septicaemia arthritis and
Lyme disease, in clinical practice the term is restricted to an acute spondyloarthritis, usually, but not exclusively, linked to acute genitourinary or gastrointestinal infection. A proportion of patients fulfil criteria for Reiter’s Syndrome .