Multiple sclerosis may be caused by common ‘kissing disease’ virus: scientists - New York Post

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A virus that infects more than 90% of adults and causes the “kissing disease” has been linked with the onset of multiple sclerosis in a new study.

Researchers at Harvard University have added further evidence that the same virus which causes the illness mononucleosis, aka “mono,” and commonly passed through saliva — hence “kissing disease” — may also encourage the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a member of the herpes family, and one of the most common human viruses in the world. Some EBV infections may prompt fever, rash, sore throat, body aches and swollen glands — the conditions of mononucleosis.

But new findings published in the journal Science on Thursday shows that EBV may further lead to MS in some infected people.

“The hypothesis that EBV causes MS has been investigated by our group and others for several years, but this is the first study providing compelling evidence of causality,” said the study’s senior author, Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School, in a press release.

The study observed a group of 955 active service members in the US military who were diagnosed with MS. Comparing them to samples from a pool of 10 million service members, researchers saw that those found to be infected with the Epstein-Barr virus were 32-times more likely to have developed MS, while no other virus was shown to have the same effect.

MS causes the body’s immune defenses to attack otherwise healthy nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Those who suffer from its neurodegenerative effects live with myriad and often debilitating physical symptoms, such as widespread pain and numbness; poor coordination, muscle weakness and paralysis; impaired vision and loss of sight; speech dysfunction; anxiety and depression.

There is no cure for the autoimmune disease, which strikes nearly 1 million Americans, close to three-quarters of whom are women, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Most will be diagnosed as young adults or later in mid-life, although it can also develop in young children and seniors.

Treatment usually involves management of these symptoms and their triggers including immunosuppressant drugs, chemotherapy and steroids, which help to slow the progression of the disease, as well as physical therapy and counseling.

Ascherio added, “This is a big step because it suggests that most MS cases could be prevented by stopping EBV infection and that targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS.”

Stamping out EBV would be a feat as most adults worldwide are carriers of the infection, but Ascherio suggests there may be mitigating factors that work to lower the risk of developing MS following EBV infection.

He said, “Currently there is no way to effectively prevent or treat EBV infection, but an EBV vaccine or targeting the virus with EBV-specific antiviral drugs could ultimately prevent or cure MS.”

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