By Claire Gordon • 13 January 2022 • 22:32
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The main Multiple Sclerosis cause may be glandular fever, the so-called ‘kissing disease’, new research has concluded after a study lasting more than two decades. Harvard scientists say they have ‘compelling evidence’ the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) – which causes the ‘kissing disease’/mononucleosis – is to blame.
They tracked the prevalence of MS among 10million soldiers in the US military over the course of 20 years. Volunteers regularly had blood tests taken to see if they had EBV. Almost 1,000 were diagnosed with the crippling condition, which can leave victims struggling to walk and see.
Analysis of the patients revealed that those who had EBV were 32 times more likely to get MS. No other infection raised the risk. Many groups have been investigating the main Multiple Sclerosis cause and whether it could be EBV, but this is the first ratifiable study that provides compelling evidence of causality.
The news has been welcomed as a huge step in the prevention of MS, as it suggests that preventing EBV would stop the majority of Multiple Sclerosis cases. Professor Alberto Ascherio, the study author, said: Targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS”.
Dr Clare Walton, head of research at the UK charity MS Society, told MailOnline “it was great to see” research into what causes the condition, which affects more than 100,000 people in Britain and about 1million in the US.
However, she added that more research needed to be done because other factors must play a role.
Dr Walton warned nine in 10 people worldwide end up being infected with EBV but “most do not go on to develop MS”.
“Ultimately, we can’t be certain that EBV is causing MS until we can see what impact preventing EBV infection has on MS incidence,” she added. “And while research into EBV vaccines is underway, it is still at an early stage.”
The MS Trust also welcomed the Harvard research but cautioned there is “still a lot more needed”. The main Multiple Sclerosis cause has long been suspected to be glandular fever, with almost all people with the condition also having caught the virus.
However, with about 95 per cent of people catching EBV at some point in their lives and only a tiny fraction developing MS, pinning down the relationship between the two has been difficult. It is thought that the EBV virus causes the body’s immune system to mistake parts of the nervous system as a foreign substance and attacks, causing damage and leading to the development of MS. MS is most commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s and is one of the leading causes of disability among young people in the UK, as reported by MailOnline.
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