Does 2 + 2 = 4, 5, or 0?

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by John Connor |

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Am I about to share my first conspiracy theory, even if it’s just about me?

Why not? It’s all the rage, though this one may have a loose connection to a possible truth. Stick with the story, please. It requires some scene-setting.

It was years ago, at the end of the Edinburgh Festival, where I’d spent three weeks in the month of August as an accredited journalist. I should have been fit, given how many miles I’d walked between venues. Like everyone else in the know, I chose my shows with great care and tried to bunch them near one another, though this wasn’t always possible. If we’d had smartphones in those days, I’d have easily completed the de rigueur 10,000 steps a day.

Most nights then involved heavy drinking in the special members bars the festival threw up. (Don’t go there!) Drinking always won out over working — until the last few days of the event, when I began feeling terrible and stuck to occasional medicinal snifters of brandy. A brave try, but it didn’t work.

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I was on the platform of the beautifully elaborate and Victorian Waverley railway station in Edinburgh, when I was suddenly violently sick. It was Sunday afternoon, and the train was packed with fellow festival denizens returning to their London homes. In those days, the capital was the hub of comedy.

As I publicly threw up, the critic had an audience for a change, full of performers who knew me. They probably figured it was just like Connor to overindulge on the last night!

But I wasn’t drunk or hungover. That would have been preferable to how I was actually feeling. I thought I had some sort of weird flu.

My temperature was raging, yet somehow I dragged my sorry carcass from Euston station to my home at the time in North London. I crawled into bed and stayed there for three weeks. I couldn’t eat and only just managed to sip a soupçon of water now and then.

For those three weeks, I fantasized about eating a nectarine. I like nectarines, but not as a recurring fantasy.

A doctor eventually came to see me. She took one look, retreated to the door and said, “You’ve got the measles!”

A kids’ disease! My mother, who today would be described as an antivaxxer, didn’t have me vaccinated in the 1960s. Although I disagreed with her beliefs, I’d done nothing about it as an adult. It was also my fault for renting a room in Edinburgh in a house where several doctors lived. Well, it may have had nothing to do with them, but it’s a good adjunct to the story.

So why bring this up (ahem) now?

I recently started going through articles I’ve saved on my reading list on my phone. One article published more than two years ago by The Guardian popped up: “Measles wipes out immune system’s memory, study finds.” Scientists described this as “immune amnesia.”

No one knows for sure what causes multiple sclerosis, but I wonder if measles played a role in my case. As with any hypothesis, I went a-looking to see if any science supported it. At least one reliable source presented the same possibility.

An article published in the journal Neurología, Neurocirugía y Psiquiatría in 1977 noted that, “A hypothesis is presented that multiple sclerosis (MS) may represent an unusual host response to measles virus, dependent upon when the measles virus is acquired. If acquired late in childhood or near adolescence, the risk of MS is increased. … [A] host’s response may vary with age at the time of infection.”

I caught measles in my late 20s and experienced what I now realize were MS episodes in my late 30s. I fell frequently and kept smashing my relatively expensive diving watches.

It seems an unlikely Hail Mary, but I can’t help but wonder if one thing led to another.

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.


Catherine avatar


This is very interesting. I had all the usual childhood illnesses fairly late - chicken pox, measles, German measles & mumps all between the ages of 13-20. I have often wondered if that might have contributed to my MS. But also living on a busy main road growing up in the 1960's & 70's, having many Mercury fillings, a jab for yellow fever & a very stressful job at the time my MS started. Who knows!


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