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Doctors Now Believe A Vaccine For A Common Virus Could Be Used To Prevent Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, also known as MS, is a neurological condition where the body begins attacking its own nervous system. Its symptoms include “pain, fatigue, vision problems and spasms.” Though roughly 2.3 million people suffer from the disease worldwide, scientists have never been certain what causes it.

Professor John Paul Leach, a consulting neurologist at the University of Glasgow, told the Daily Mail:

MS is a condition where the body produces antibodies against itself for reasons that have never been understood and goes against its own nervous system. It is odd that we have never found out why some people are more prone than others.

Now, however, doctors believe they may have discovered a combination of factors. According to researchers, multiple sclerosis may be the product of a patient contracting threadworms followed by the Epstein-Barr virus (specifically in that order).

This is huge news. If MS is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, patients who receive a vaccine for Epstein-Barr are essentially immune to MS.

Before the discovery, Leach suspected multiple viruses may be at play:

There is already some evidence that exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus makes it more likely someone will develop MS but this does not offer the full explanation of why people develop this reaction. MS may be the result of not one but two infections in the right order.

Scientists plan to carry out further research to confirm their theory, but they’re very optimistic.

Dr. Patrick Kearns of Harvard University, leader of the research team, said:

I believe the missing link may be threadworm infection. This is a very common condition in children and is also common in soldiers living in barracks. In areas where soldiers were billeted during the Second World War, it would have spread to local populations.

Kearns explained why threadworms and Epstein-Barr together may form MS:

I believe that what may be causing MS is a rare late complication of exposure to these two infections.

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 then even after they recover from the illness, the virus hides in the white blood cells.

It is already known to cause a huge number of other diseases and cancer and it could be that it causes the memory white blood cells that were created to respond to threadworms to start attacking similar cells in the human body. It may be a good idea for public health officials to treat worms at a population level.

But the real benefit would be developing better tools to target the Epstein-Barr virus with a vaccine or drugs.

Threadworms are a parasitic infection that attacks the gut. Around 17% of the world’s population have threadworms at some point in their life, though most deal with them during childhood.

Epstein-Barr is also fairly common—in fact, it’s described as “one of the most common viruses in humans.” The virus causes glandular fever, but can also leave patients with only mild symptoms.

If a vaccine for Epstein-Barr can prevent MS, the world will have moved in a healthier direction once again! Even in dark times, science marches onward.

H/T – The Daily Mail, Healthline

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Written by Collin Gossel

Collin Gossel is a writer and comedian living in Brooklyn, New York, but there are nights when he looks up at the stars and wistfully thinks to himself “there’s got to be more out there…” You can catch Collin improvising new musicals every Tuesday night at the Magnet Theater’s Musical Megawatt, or follow his unfiltered thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @CollinGossel.--