Epstein-Barr virus: linked to multiple sclerosis?
What Science says (about a Harvard study)
10 million individuals analysed
Don't panic
An important clue to cure (or prevent) multiple sclerosis
What is the kissing disease?
What is multiple sclerosis?
Other viruses have no impact
Multiple sclerosis: a minority
Not to be confused with ALS
Focusing on the virus
There is no specific treatment
A major scientific breakthrough
Other factors linked to MS
Genetic predisposition is king
Still a hypothesis
Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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Epstein-Barr virus: linked to multiple sclerosis?

What you see in the picture is the Epstein-Barr virus under a microscope: the virus that causes the so-called mononucleosis or kissing disease. A headline in the prestigious journal Science has shocked the world: this virus may be the cause of the dreaded multiple sclerosis.

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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What Science says (about a Harvard study)

Science's summary of the Harvard University research is disturbing but, at the same time, very important to note as a scientific breakthrough. "Infection with Epstein-Barr virus is the trigger for the development of multiple sclerosis".

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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10 million individuals analysed

The Harvard University study is based on a two-decade follow-up of 10 million US servicemen and women. The conclusion is that those who have suffered from mono - or kissing disease - are 32 times more likely to develop multiple sclerosis.

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Don't panic

However, don't panic just yet. In reality, more than 90% of the world's population is infected with mononucleosis. It is not only the Epstein-Barr virus that causes multiple sclerosis, scientists believe that there must be a genetic predisposition and there are also other factors to consider.

Image: Loic Furhoff / Unsplash

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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An important clue to cure (or prevent) multiple sclerosis

But according to the head of the Harvard study team, epidemiologist Alberto Ascherio, author of the article in Science, the link between the kissing disease and multiple sclerosis is clear. The mononucleosis pathogen remains in our bodies for life and, according to this research, can provoke or accelerate the process of developing multiple sclerosis.

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What is the kissing disease?

Kissing disease is spread by saliva and is common in most people. It usually occurs in adolescence or early adulthood and causes only a few days of discomfort or fever. Then it passes. But the mark of the Epstein-Barr virus remains in our bodies forever.

Image: Kimson Doan / Unsplash

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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What is multiple sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis occurs when the "myelin sheath", which covers the neurons, in an abnormal and unexpected process, gradually disappears. This affects the brain and spinal cord, causing neuronal commands not to reach where they are supposed to. This results in progressive paralysis. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. It is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40.

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Other viruses have no impact

The Harvard research is based on observation and analysis of 10 million soldiers over the years. It shows that those infected with the Epstein-Barr virus are more likely to develop multiple sclerosis. Infection with other viruses, however, does not give any significant results.

Image: Louis Reed / Unsplash

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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Multiple sclerosis: a minority

Multiple sclerosis is not a majority disease. It affects one in a thousand people. But its severity and the impossibility of curing it make it an enemy of science.

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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Not to be confused with ALS

Multiple sclerosis is not the same as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The scientist Stephen Hawking (pictured) had ALS. The end results are similar and both diseases are caused by neuronal deterioration. But the main difference is that multiple sclerosis progresses in a series of outbreaks (each outbreak worsens the physical condition of the sufferer) and in ALS there is a progressive and steady development of physical decline.

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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Focusing on the virus

Epidemiologist Alberto Ascherio, who led the research, argues that the focus should now be on investigating the Epstein-Barr virus and how it acts in the human body. This could be the way to find a cure for multiple sclerosis.

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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There is no specific treatment

There are different palliative strategies to alleviate the conditions caused by multiple sclerosis but no specific treatment. In fact, in simplified terms, the drugs are intended to mitigate the effects of multiple sclerosis.

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A major scientific breakthrough

This is not the first time that the Epstein-Barr virus has been linked to multiple sclerosis, but the number of individuals involved in this Harvard University study is so large that it is an important confirmation of the link between the two.

Image: Fakurian Design / Unsplash

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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Other factors linked to MS

There are also studies linking multiple sclerosis to smoking, obesity or a lack of vitamin D (which is acquired from sunlight). However, however the true origin is still a mystery.

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Genetic predisposition is king

And what is clear to almost all scientists is that our genetic code plays the biggest role and, surely, beyond a virus or a risk factor, this is where the origin of multiple sclerosis will be found.

Image: Braňo / Unsplash

Kissing disease could be cause of multiple sclerosis, research reveals
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Still a hypothesis

That said, the link between the Epstein-Barr virus (kissing disease or mononucleosis) and multiple sclerosis remains a hypothesis - but this study represents a major breakthrough.

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