Reactive arthritis typically begins about 1 to 3 weeks after infection. The bacterium most often associated with reactive arthritis is Chlamydia trachomatis, commonly known as chlamydia (pronounced kla-MID-e-a). It is usually acquired through sexual contact. Some evidence also shows that respiratory infections with Chlamydia pneumoniae may trigger reactive arthritis.

Infections in the digestive tract that may trigger reactive arthritis include Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, and Campylobacter. People may become infected with these bacteria after eating or handling improperly prepared food, such as meats that are not stored at the proper temperature.

Doctors do not know exactly why some people exposed to these bacteria develop reactive arthritis and others do not, but they have identified a genetic factor, human leukocyte antigen (HLA) B27, that increases a person’s chance of developing reactive arthritis. Approximately 80 percent of people with reactive arthritis test positive for HLA-B27. However, inheriting the HLA-B27 gene does not necessarily mean you will get reactive arthritis. Eight percent of healthy people have the HLA-B27 gene, and only about one-fifth of them will develop reactive arthritis if they contract the triggering infections.

Is Reactive Arthritis Contagious?

Reactive arthritis is not contagious; that is, a person with the disorder cannot pass the arthritis on to someone else. However, the bacteria that can trigger reactive arthritis can be passed from person to person

Who Gets Reactive Arthritis?

Overall, men between the ages of 20 and 40 are most likely to develop reactive arthritis. However, evidence shows that although men are nine times more likely than women to develop reactive arthritis due to venereally acquired infections, women and men are equally likely to develop reactive arthritis as a result of food-borne infections. Women with reactive arthritis often have milder symptoms than men.

Reactive arthritis is uncommon. It most commonly affects men aged between 20 and 40. This is because they are most at risk of urethral infection from sexually transmitted diseases. However, it can occur at any age and in anyone. We are all at risk of getting a gut infection from food poisoning which may trigger a reactive arthritis.

There is a genetic link too. About 1 in 14 people in the UK have a gene called HLA-B27. About three out of four people who have reactive arthritis have this gene. So, this gene seems to make you more likely to develop reactive arthritis if you have a 'triggering' infection.

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