The Connection Between the Epstein-Barr Virus and Multiple Sclerosis
Experts believe that the Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV, has a connection to an array of conditions. Recently, researchers discovered that multiple sclerosis is one such condition that may have a heightened risk.
Bruce Bebo is the executive vice president of research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and he is dedicating sizable chunks of their research to the better understanding of how exactly the Epstein-Barr virus and multiple sclerosis may be connected.
However, he wants people to know that Epstein-Barr is not some rare or unusual virus that causes these problems only to those who have the misfortune of running into it, but that everyone will be exposed to EBV at some point throughout their lifetime.
The connection between EBV and MS is actually a little more complicated, and has to do with mononucleosis. Bebo explains that there is evidence of a connection between the development of mononucleosis and a higher level of risk for multiple sclerosis.
You might be wondering, "okay, but how does this connect to Epstein-Barr?" Mononucleosis is a possible by-product of EBV. The virus gained much of its recognition by being the major cause of infectious mononucleosis.
Background on EBV
EBV has been around for a while. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 1964 the virus was first recognized as one of the most common viruses present in humans across the globe. They estimated that at least 90 percent of the world's population would be infected at one point or another throughout their lives.
At this point, you are probably questioning how EBV could be so common without our being thoroughly aware of it. It is possible because most people who are infected either do not feel any type of illness, or only experience mild symptoms that could easily be incorrectly attributed to something else.
Most infections of EBV occur in early childhood, and have no symptoms. However, for those who are only infected at a later stage, the tendency to develop mononucleosis is higher in this later phase.
What is mononucleosis?
You may have heard of mononucleosis being referred to as simply "mono," and as it is transferred by saliva, many refer to it as "the kissing disease."
Mono and MS
For patients who have infectious mononucleosis, EBV is capable of activating the retrovirus HERV-W/MSRV. This specific activation has shown to be connected with multiple sclerosis.
Bebo explained the tie, "we understand there is a connection between developing mononucleosis and the risk for MS. We have all practically been exposed to this virus (EBV). Only a fraction got mono. But that fraction of folks has a higher risk for MS."
Why is this? Bebo explains that that people who have multiple sclerosis respond to EBV in a different way, as MS patients are more likely to have a high level of immune reactivity in response.