Viral fever raises multiple sclerosis risk

Washington: Scientists claim to have found evidence that a kind of viral fever, combined with genetic variations in the immune system, can raise a person`s risk of developing multiple sclerosis.

An international team says that the identification of the Epstein-Barr virus may soon lead to new therapeutic and preventative strategies for multiple sclerosis (MS) directed at relevant components of the immune system.

The study, published in the `Neurology` journal, involved 300 people who had experienced "a first demyelinating event", which is an episode of type of symptoms that occur in MS and a possible precursor of MS, and 500 healthy people.

"We found that the presence of EBV antibodies was directly related to an increased risk of demyelinating disease, and there was also a strong relationship with certain genes of central importance to the immune system.

"High levels of EBV antibodies indicate a past infection with glandular fever, which in combination with a specific HLA-DR15 or HLA-A genotype increased the risk of a first demyelinating event by 20 times," team leader Prof Robyn Lucas of the Australian National University said.

MS affects about 2.5 million people worldwide. It can be a devastating condition in which the immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, occurring in the prime of life and mostly in young women.

"These findings are consistent with other studies showing an association between markers of past EBV infection and MS risk and we have also shown further interaction withother immune system genes in HLA class I region and CTLA-4.

"This work is really encouraging as it starts to bring together the different risk factors that we know are involved in MS. It points us in the right direction for further research to prevent and cure MS," Prof Lucas said.