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Epstein-Barr Virus, Mono and MS

Is there a connection between mononucleosis and multiple sclerosis? Studies conducted over many years have brought proof to the table of the connection between these two diseases and the common link of the Epstein-Barr virus.

EBV - What it is and How it Manifests

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a member of the herpes virus family and is one of the most common viruses in the world. Many people, about 95 percent of all adults in the US, have been infected with the EBV at some point in their lives, however commonly the virus remains asymptomatic. Babies infected with EBV will show signs of having a bad cold or flu, with fever, sore throat and running noses. At later age infection, during adolescence, the virus manifests most commonly - in 30-40 percent of adolescents - as infectious mononucleosis. At this stage, mono can show up as a sore throat, fever, swollen glands and a general feeling of malaise and listlessness. It can progress in severity to enlarged liver and spleen with abdominal pain, closed airways due to swollen lymph nodes and in extreme cases, even Bell's palsy.

Other Manifestations of EBV

The EBV is also implicated in other diseases. In temperate climates, such as the US, Canada and Europe, it is seldom fatal, but in tropical climates, EBV is associated with two different types of cancer, Burkitt's lymphoma and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Now, research is confirming the connection between mono and MS since people with MS have higher than expected levels of antibodies to the Epstein-Barr virus. Several studies have cited the onset of MS often follows infectious mononucleosis. It appears that few people develop MS during or immediately after their first EBV infection, however, the vast majority of people with MS have been previously infected by EBV.

The EBV/Mono Link to MS

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and a team of collaborators have discovered factors which implicate the Epstein-Barr virus as a possible contributor to MS. Blood samples collected over a nine year period, from 1965 to 1974, were the base source for the study which looked for possible MS diagnosis between 1995 and 1999. 42 individuals diagnosed with MS who had serum collected before the diagnosis date were chosen for the two control groups. The study's main finding was that the antibodies to the Epstein-Barr nuclear antigen complex and its component were elevated for as many as 20 years before symptoms of MS even began to show in these individuals.

"Collectively, the results of this and the previous studies provide compelling evidence that infection with EBV is a risk factor in the development of MS," said Alberto Ascherio, senior author of the study and Associate Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.

Hope For Prevention

There is mounting evidence that shows the relationship of EBV infection to other autoimmune diseases, especially lupus, as well as MS. "Discovering strong risk factors is the task of epidemoiologists and an important initial step in finding ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent MS," said Ascherio. "A focused multidisciplinary effort is now needed to complete the puzzle and thus open the door to new therapeutic approaches."



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