Study: More evidence links a virus to multiple sclerosis

Jan 13, 2022, 12:15 PM | Updated: Jan 14, 2022, 12:48 pm

There’s more evidence that one of the world’s most common viruses may set some people on the path to developing multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease that occurs when immune system cells mistakenly attack the protective coating on nerve fibers, gradually eroding them.

The Epstein-Barr virus has long been suspected of playing a role in development of MS. It’s a connection that’s hard to prove because just about everybody gets infected with Epstein-Barr, usually as kids or young adults — but only a tiny fraction develop MS.

Thursday, Harvard researchers reported one of the largest studies yet to back the Epstein-Barr theory.

They tracked blood samples stored from more than 10 million people in the U.S. military and found the risk of MS increased 32-fold following Epstein-Barr infection.

The military regularly administers blood tests to its members and the researchers checked samples stored from 1993 to 2013, hunting antibodies signaling viral infection.

Just 5.3% of recruits showed no sign of Epstein-Barr when they joined the military. The researchers compared 801 MS cases subsequently diagnosed over the 20-year period with 1,566 service members who never got MS.

Only one of the MS patients had no evidence of the Epstein-Barr virus prior to diagnosis. And despite intensive searching, the researchers found no evidence that other viral infections played a role.

The findings “strongly suggest” that Epstein-Barr infection is “a cause and not a consequence of MS,” study author Dr. Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues reported in the journal Science.

It’s clearly not the only factor, considering that about 90% of adults have antibodies showing they’ve had Epstein-Barr — while nearly 1 million people in the U.S. are living with MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The virus appears to be “the initial trigger,” Drs. William H. Robinson and Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University wrote in an editorial accompanying Thursday’s study. But they cautioned, “additional fuses must be ignited,” such as genes that may make people more vulnerable.

Epstein-Barr is best known for causing “mono,” or infectious mononucleosis, in teens and young adults but often occurs with no symptoms. A virus that remains inactive in the body after initial infection, it also has been linked to later development of some autoimmune diseases and rare cancers.

It’s not clear why. Among the possibilities is what’s called “molecular mimicry,” meaning viral proteins may look so similar to some nervous system proteins that it induces the mistaken immune attack.

Regardless, the new study is “the strongest evidence to date that Epstein-Barr contributes to cause MS,” said Mark Allegretta, vice president for research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

And that, he added, “opens the door to potentially prevent MS by preventing Epstein-Barr infection.”

Attempts are underway to develop Epstein-Barr vaccines including a small study just started by Moderna Inc., best known for its COVID-19 vaccine.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks during an Independence Day celebration on the South Lawn of the W...
Associated Press

From one July Fourth to the next, a steep slide for Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last Fourth of July, President Joe Biden gathered hundreds of people outside the White House for an event that would have been unthinkable for many Americans the previous year. With the coronavirus in retreat, they ate hamburgers and watched fireworks over the National Mall. Although the pandemic wasn’t over yet, Biden said, […]
5 hours ago
Chief Nurse Executive Danielle Maness stands in an empty examination room that was used to perform ...
Associated Press

After abortion ruling, clinic staff grapple with trauma

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Danielle Maness has squeezed the hands of hundreds of anxious patients lying on tables in the procedure room, now empty. She’s recorded countless vital signs and delivered scores of snacks to the recovery area, now silent. Peering into each darkened room at West Virginia ‘s only abortion clinic, the chief nurse […]
5 hours ago
FILE - Lina Khan, nominee for Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, speaks during a Senate ...
Associated Press

Ruling could dampen government efforts to rein in Big Tech

The Supreme Court’s latest climate change ruling could dampen efforts by federal agencies to rein in the tech industry, which went largely unregulated for decades as the government tried to catch up to changes wrought by the internet. In the 6-3 decision that was narrowly tailored to the Environmental Protection Agency, the court ruled Thursday […]
5 hours ago
In this photo provided by the Luhansk region military administration, damaged residential buildings...
Associated Press

Russia claims capture of pivotal city in eastern Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia’s defense minister said Russian forces took control Sunday of the last major Ukrainian-held city in Ukraine’s Luhansk province, bringing Moscow closer to its stated goal of seizing all of Ukraine’s Donbas region. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Russia’s troops together with members of a local separatist […]
5 hours ago
Associated Press

North Texas shooter kills 2, wounds 3 cops, takes own life

HALTOM CITY, Texas (AP) — A gunman killed two people and wounded four others, including three police officers, before taking his own life Saturday evening in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, police said. Haltom City Police Det. Matt Spillane said early Sunday that all of those wounded in the shooting in a residential neighborhood had non-life […]
1 day ago
FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011 file photo, Associated Press Special Regional Correspondent f...
Associated Press

Hope and despair: Kathy Gannon on 35 years in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan policeman opened fire on us with his AK-47, emptying 26 bullets into the back of the car. Seven slammed into me, and at least as many into my colleague, Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus. She died at my side. Anja weighed heavy against my shoulder. I tried to look […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
Study: More evidence links a virus to multiple sclerosis