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Researchers Have a New Theory About What May Cause Multiple Sclerosis

Two common infections might set the stage for multiple sclerosis.

When the following headline in the Australian newspaper the Herald Sun caught my eye recently, I was cautiously intrigued:

“Doctors believe they have discovered the cause of multiple sclerosis”

My cynical heart didn’t go pitter-patter as it once would have. Over the past three decades, I’ve become more or less immune to sensational headlines about MS. I’ve read my fair share of articles promising a cure or coming up with a groundbreaking theory. I’ve heard about too many scam artists touting their snake oil to unsuspecting patients. But this article was different.

Apparently, scientists from Harvard University and the University of Glasgow are suggesting that exposure to two common infections — threadworms, a common infection in children that infects the gut, and then the Epstein-Barr virus — may be the cause of MS.

According to Dr. Patrick Kearns of Harvard University, who led the research, “First, when the body is exposed to threadworm infection it produces an immune response and ‘memory’ white blood cells are created and live in the immune system that could fight off the infection again. Next, if someone is exposed to the Epstein-Barr virus, even after they recover from the illness, the virus hides in the white blood cells.” These memory cells start attacking similar cells in the body, Kearns explained, according to the Herald Sun.

We already know that the Epstein-Barr virus causes other illnesses such as cancer, and this sounds like a promising area for further studies.

Kearns goes on to suggest that public officials should work on treating the worms in the general population, and more importantly find a vaccine or drug to fight off the Epstein-Barr virus. (The research is published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.)

We shall wait and see.

When I was diagnosed in 1986, my neurologist told me, “If they can find a cause they can find a cure.” My parents insisted I get a second opinion of my diagnosis, and after we received the confirmation that I indeed had MS, this highly regarded Manhattan neurologist proclaimed, “There will probably be a cure in five years.” This was my first taste of dashed hopes for a cure.

Read on: Researchers Have a New Theory About What May Cause Multiple Sclerosis

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