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.