Monday, January 24, 2022

Multiple sclerosis can be caused by the kissing disease virus

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The debilitating disease multiple sclerosis could be caused by the common virus behind ‘kissing disease’, scientists claim.

A new Harvard University study suggests the chronic illness could stem from infection with Epstein-Barr, a herpesvirus that causes infectious mononucleosis.

Monofever, or glandular fever as it is also known, is colloquially referred to as “the kissing disease” because it is highly contagious through saliva.

While the Epstein-Barr virus causes fatigue, fever, a rash, and swollen glands, researchers suggest it could also cause a latent, lifelong infection that could be a leading cause of multiple sclerosis.

The chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, which affects 2.8 million people, cannot be cured.

A study published Thursday in the journal Science looked at 955 young adults who were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while serving in the military.

Compared to samples from 10 million military personnel, they found that the risk of MS increased by a factor of 32 after infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. No other virus increased the risk of MS.

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

“This is a big step as it suggests that stopping EBV infection could prevent most MS cases and that tackling EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS.”

However, stopping Epstein-Barr could be difficult because about 95 percent of adults are infected with the herpes virus.

Mr Ascherio says the delay between contracting the virus and developing MS symptoms could be due to the immune system being repeatedly stimulated as the latent virus is reactivated.

The disease causes the immune system to attack neurons in the brain and spinal cord, which can permanently damage the central nervous system. In severe cases, people can lose their ability to walk.

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

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