Reactive arthritis (ReA) and Lyme arthritis together comprise a pair of chronic inflammatory diseases of the joints. Although differing in detail, these relatively rare diseases are related in their immunopathology to the much commoner rheumatoid arthritis (RA), for which they serve as both model and control. The trigger for rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but for these rarer diseases triggering occurs by certain well-defined bacterial infections. Arthritis is an uncommon outcome of these infections, for reasons unknown, and the development of chronic, as distinct from brief, arthritis is even rarer; again, the reasons are unknown. Not only does knowing the trigger greatly assist us in understanding these diseases, so also does knowing the contrasting pattern of Th1 versus Th2 cytokines observed in RA and ReA. ReA and Lyme arthritis are here considered in the wider setting of infections where chronic morbidity arises first from hypersensitivity, and perhaps finally from autoimmunity, such as occurs in some of the major tropical diseases. The immunology of ReA and Lyme disease is surveyed in detail, concentrating on T cells and including an update on the Lyme vaccine(s). Additional sections deal with the enigma of HLA B27, with epidemiological findings relevant to the chronicity of ReA and to the need for enlarged prospective studies of ReA in the setting of a developing country.