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Stronger evidence found linking Epstein-Barr virus and risk of multiple sclerosis

Boston, MA Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Kaiser Permanente, and a team of collaborators have found further evidence implicating the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) as a possible contributory cause to multiple sclerosis (MS). The study appears in the advance online edition of the June 2006 issue of Archives of Neurology.

MS is a chronic degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Women are more likely than men to get the disease and it is the most common neurologically disabling disease in young adults. Although genetic predisposition plays an important role in determining susceptibility, past studies have shown that environmental factors are equally important.

EBV is a herpes virus and one of the most common human viruses worldwide. Infection in early childhood is common and usually asymptomatic. Late age at infection, however, often causes infectious mononucleosis. In the U.S., upwards of 95% of adults are infected with the virus, but free of symptoms. EBV has been associated with some types of cancer and can cause serious complications when the immune system is suppressed, for example, in transplant recipients. There is no effective treatment for EBV.

The study population was made up of more than 100,000 members of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) health plan, who provided blood specimens as part of medical examinations between 1965 and 1974. The KPNC maintained the medical records of all its members, including those who provided specimens, in electronic databases. Between 1995 and 1999, those databases were searched for evidence that would indicate a possible diagnosis of MS.

The researchers selected 42 individuals diagnosed with MS and that had serum specimens collected before the date of diagnosis. Two controls for each case were then selected from the serum database and matched by sex, date of blood collection, and age at time of blood collection.

The study's main finding was th
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Contact: Todd Datz
tdatz@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-3952
Harvard School of Public Health
11-Apr-2006


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