Multiple sclerosis and Epstein-Barr virus
Have you heard? A new Harvard study finds a strong link between Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the virus that causes mononucleosis, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Presumably, EBV is a major cause of MS. The Harvard press release says:
„Multiple sclerosis (MS), a progressive disease that affects 2.8 million people worldwide and for which there is no definitive cure, is likely caused by infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers.“
This is not new. Many neurologists and other health care practitioners have long suspected that EBV is an important cause of MS, but this is the first large scale study with significant results. Many researchers have reported that it has been difficult to receive funding to investigate the link between MS and EBV. Gavin Giovannoni writes about this in this month’s Preventive Neurology newsletter:
„After reviewing the epidemiological data about the association between EBV and MS in the late nineties I became convinced that EBV is the cause of MS. One of the reasons why I moved academic institutions, from UCL to Queen Mary University of London, was to study EBV and to develop an MS prevention research programme. Despite being very positive I found that it was difficult to convince my colleagues and the wider MS community to invest in EBV-MS research. I was fortunate enough to get an MRC grant application, but since then I must have had at least 20 grant applications around the EBV-MS hypothesis rejected. It is very disheartening when this happens.“
To be fair, it isn‘t easy to establish a causal link between MS and EBV. As the Harvard press release says:
„Establishing a causal relationship between the virus and the disease has been difficult because EBV infects approximately 95% of adults, MS is a relatively rare disease, and the onset of MS symptoms begins about 10 years after EBV infection. To determine the connection between EBV and MS, the researchers conducted a study among more than 10 million young adults on active duty in the U.S. military and identified 955 who were diagnosed with MS during their period of service.“
What do the study results mean?
First of all, the study results tell us that MS might be avoided by not contracting EBV. But EBV is VERY widespread: an estimated 95% of all adults worldwide have been infected with EBV in their lifetime, and most people contract the virus as teenagers or in early adulthood. Many infections are asymptomatic, so it is difficult to avoid infection and you may not know if you’ve ever had the virus, The only likely way to prevent an EBV infection therefore might be through vaccination.
Also this week, the pharmaceutical company Moderna announced that they have begun testing an mRNA EBV vaccine on humans. More information about this, including the impact on the Harvard study results, can be found here:
More detailed technical information about the vaccine and the study are available in this Moderna press release:
What if I have MS?
In the articles cited above, it is mentioned that there may be anti-viral drugs that cure MS in the future. This does not help people who have MS now. But there are things you can change in your diet and lifestyle that can help keep pathogens in better check. For inspiration on an „antiviral lifestyle“, check out these websites:
To be continued…
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