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We have developed a flying-spot scanner for fluorescence imaging of rheumatoid arthritis in the near infrared (NIR) spectral range following intravenous administration of contrast agents. The new imaging system has been characterized with respect to linearity, dynamic range and spatial resolution with the help of fluorescent phantoms. In vivo experiments were performed on an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, NIR-fluorescence images of early stages of joint inflammation have been compared with findings from contrast enhanced MR imaging and histology.