An Epstein-Barr Virus Primer for MS Patients
You may have heard about the research that’s just been published about the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and multiple sclerosis (MS). The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study reports that being infected by EBV raises the risk of developing MS by 32 times. This isn’t a small or a short study. The researchers looked at 20 years of data covering more than 10 million U.S. military members.
“This is a big step because it suggests that most MS cases could be prevented by stopping EBV infection, and that targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS,” the study’s senior author, Alberto Ascherio, MD, said.
Needless to say, the news has generated a good deal of discussion on MS News Today‘s Facebook page. That discussion has revealed that not everyone with MS knows what EBV is and why studying it is important to people with MS. So, following is a little EBV primer I’ve put together.
You probably have EBV
EBV is carried by about 90% of the world’s population. Many people are infected with it in childhood but frequently show no symptoms. So, there’s a good chance that you may be carrying this virus and not know it.
If symptoms do appear, they often show up as fatigue, fever, a bad sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. If that sounds to you like mononucleosis, you’re right. Though EBV can be responsible for other illnesses, mono is the most common. The virus affects the central nervous system, and some of those other illnesses include optic neuritis (swelling of the eye nerve), transverse myelitis (swelling of the spinal cord), and Guillain-Barré syndrome (an immune system disease). See where I’m heading with this?
EBV and MS
Several studies over the past few years have suggested an EBV-MS connection, and that link might be in memory B-cells. When EBV is in the body in its dormant form, it situates itself inside those B-cells. Some of our disease-modifying therapies are designed to target B-cells, reducing their numbers or preventing them from traveling into the central nervous system.
It seems logical to me, as a nonscientist, that if a vaccine could be developed to protect someone against EBV, it might also protect against multiple sclerosis. Some scientists agree.
The researchers in the Harvard study wrote: “The extremely low MS risk in EBV-negative individuals suggests that, by far, most MS cases are caused by EBV and could thus potentially be prevented by a suitable vaccine.”
EBV vaccine in the works
Moderna, the company that produces one of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, has started a clinical trial for a possible EBV vaccine, using the same mRNA technology. Researchers hope to enroll about 270 participants across 15 sites in the U.S.
I hope that MS researchers will put their heads together with their EBV-researching colleagues on the development of such a vaccine, and that MS advocacy organizations will fund researchers traveling this road. I think it will move us closer to an MS cure.
You’re invited to visit my personal website at www.themswire.com.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.