The chronic inflammatory disease, multiple sclerosis, could be caused by Epstein-Barr, a virus behind a common ‘kissing disease.’ Scientists are hopeful findings of the study, published in Science, would go a long way in finding treatments for the disease, which has no cure.
MS and Epstein-Barr Virus
Researchers from Harvard University found that the Epstein-Barr-Virus (EBV) was linked to all but one of 801 cases of multiple sclerosis.
The team analysed blood samples from over 10 million employees of the US military, out of which 801 had multiple sclerosis. Blood samples from the employees with MS were tested for EBV antibodies—to determine if they’ve ever had the virus. Results point to only one of the 801 people with MS tested negative for EBV antibodies.
Researchers thus concluded that the risk of developing MS increased significantly when one has been infected by Epstein-Barr virus. No other virus increased the risk of MS.
The study’s senior author Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School, said in a press release:
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.
EPV is a herpes virus that causes infectious mononucleosis. It is formerly known as the ‘Kissing disease’ for being highly contagious through saliva. It commonly affects teenagers and young adults and causes swollen glands and sore throat. One only gets it once in a lifetime.
The scientists also believe that the study is a boost for efforts to find treatment for MS. Professor Ascherio said:
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.
Although they could not establish the precise ways in which EPV influences the onset of multiple sclerosis, they are confident that by tackling or preventing infections caused by the virus, people could avoid developing MS.
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.