Study confirms: a common virus that causes multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease that occurs when immune system cells mistakenly attack the protective sheath of nerve fibres, eventually killing them.

The Epstein-Barr virus and its role in multiple sclerosis have long been suspected. It’s a link that’s hard to prove because nearly all people contract the virus, usually when they are children or teenagers, but only a small minority of them develop multiple sclerosis.

Thursday, Harvard researchers recorded one of the largest studies to date supporting the Epstein-Barr theory.

Researchers tracked stored blood samples from more than ten million people in the US military and found that the risk of developing multiple sclerosis increased 32 times after contracting the virus.

The military usually runs blood tests on its personnel, and researchers studied samples stored from 1993 to 2013, tracking antibodies that indicated a viral infection.

Only 5.3 percent of recruits showed no sign of a Babstein-Barr infection when they joined the military. Researchers compared 801 MS cases eventually diagnosed over a 20-year period with 1,566 recruits who never had the disease.

Only one MS patient had no evidence of Epstein-Barr virus before being diagnosed with the disease. Despite extensive research, the researchers found no evidence that any other viral infection played a role.

Dr. said. Alberto Acchirio, study author of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues in the journal Science said the findings “strongly suggest” that Epstein-Barr infection is “a cause rather than a consequence of multiple sclerosis.”

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