July 1, 2003
Elevated serum levels of antibodies that fight Epstein-Barr virus are associated with a higher risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study. Researchers analyzed stored blood specimens drawn from more than 3 million military personnel; 83 of them had been granted temporary or permanent disability because of MS. Researchers studied the earliest blood sample the military had taken for each of these subjects, plus as many as two additional samples before symptom onset and the first sample taken after symptom onset. The average time from first specimen collection to onset of symptoms was 4 years. For each subject with MS, researchers matched a randomly selected control subject of the same age, sex, ethnicity, and dates of blood sample collection.
The samples showed an increasing risk of developing MS as serum antibody levels to Epstein-Barr virus increased: The risk of developing MS was more than 30 times greater for those with the highest Epstein-Barr virus antibodies, compared with people with lowest levels.
Although the data suggest a link between the Epstein-Barr virus and MS, the researchers stress that the relationship remains unclear.
Source: "Multiple Sclerosis and EpsteinBarr Virus," L. Levin, et al.,
JAMA, March 26, 2003.
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