A popular theory of what contributes to developing multiple sclerosis is a disease called mononucleosis (also known as glandular fever), which can be caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It is thought that the virus weakens our defenses in the blood-brain barrier, allowing white blood cells and/or bacteria in to the central nervous system (CSN). The CNS is an uncommon area for white blood cells to be, so when they detect healthy cells and myelin, they attack them thinking that they are an enemy.
- Antibodies (immune proteins that indicate a person has been exposed) to EBV were significantly higher in people who eventually developed MS than in control samples of people who did not get the disease.
- MS risk increased significantly following infection with EBV, thereby demonstrating that EBV was in the body before MS developed.
- People with a specific immune-related gene and high levels of antibodies to EBV in their blood were nine times more likely to develop MS than those without the gene and with low levels of the antibodies.
A life-changing moment
The saying, “Your life can change in a split second,” holds significant meaning for me. I believe my life-changing “second” was in 1970, on my 14th birthday. My friend decided to throw a party for me to celebrate. One of the games chosen was “spin the bottle.” I was pretty shy, and wasn’t looking forward to playing it at all. The idea of my first kiss being in front of a room full of my peers was mortifying. It turned out fine, “the spins” consisted of a few quick pecks and the game was over, or so I thought.
Speed up to me becoming very sick. Mononucleosis (the kissing disease) was the diagnosis, plus strep throat and a swollen spleen. I had no idea where I had caught the disease. Then I was told a boy at the party had mono also, maybe even more kids. A lot of the kids went to another school so I never really found out.
Could that have been the start of my MS? Something so random and innocent as a game of spin the bottle?
It is very possible that a birthday party, and a quick kiss, put me on the path of this very despicable disease!
Interestingly, my fellow columnist Ian Franks addressed the same issue last year.
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