More Research Supports Link Between Multiple Sclerosis and Mononucleosis
The association between mononucleosis (mono), which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and multiple sclerosis (MS) has be established for many years. Research has shown that people who have been infected with EBV are more likely to develop MS later on. Studies have shown that adults who have MS are rarely negative for the EBV and that some studies have shown that “late-onset” EBV, or when people get mono in their adolescent years, are at an even higher risk of developing MS. Previous research has shown that the association between mono and MS exists regardless of age, sex, and time since the mono diagnosis and severity of the illness.
However, recent data is indicating that ethnicity may play a role.
A neuroscience researcher out of Southern California Permanente Medical Group, Dr. Annette Langer-Gould described how a new study has shown a 2- to 3-fold increase in MS after mono among white people, but a 4-fold increase among black and Hispanic people.
Many people get mono (also known as the “kissing disease”) in their lifetime. Despite the nickname, mono is spread through saliva, whether that be through kissing, sharing drinks, or coughing and sneezing. It is not, however, as contagious as the common cold or some other respiratory illnesses. For adolescents or adults who contract the infection, the symptoms can be quite severe and involve fatigue, fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. It is also possible to get a skin rash and headache with mono.
The dangers of mono
Yet the complications from mono are usually worse than the illness itself. These can include a swollen spleen, problems with the liver, as well as anemia. When people are diagnosed with mono they will be told that they need to stop all contact sports in order to protect their spleen. Getting hit in the spleen could cause it to rupture if it is inflamed. If complications with the liver occur, these can include mild liver inflammation and jaundice primarily in the eyes. Younger children who get the virus may not have any symptoms at all or may just have mild symptoms such as what someone may experience with a cold. Usually most people get through mono without many complications despite it taking a huge toll on their immune system, and since it is a virus, once you have had it you will not get it again.
If you suspect a mono infection, go see your healthcare provider. He or she will do a physical exam and a blood test to diagnose you.
Where exactly does the connection with MS come from?
While it is not fully understood why a previous mono infection, especially one that presents later in life, is linked to MS, Dr. Langer-Gould discusses one theory. She says that by the infection coming out in adulthood rather than childhood, it could alter the immune system in a way that makes it easier for MS to develop. Developing a vaccine for mono is desirable for many reasons, if not only because it is a dreadfully uncomfortable and debilitating infection for many.