More MS news articles for June 2001

WCN: Poor Air Quality Exacerbates Multiple Sclerosis

By Richard Robins
Special to DG News

LONDON, ENGLAND -- June 21, 2001 -- Exposure to airborne particulates increases the exacerbation rate in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, according to a study presented today at the 17th World Congress of Neurology here.

Peripheral microbial infections are known to increase MS exacerbations, according to Mervi Oikonen of the Aerobiology Unit at the University of Turku, Finland. Susceptibility to such infections of the airways increases with a rise in airborne particulates, through a complex of immune system and respiratory tissue changes.

To determine whether there is a direct link between air pollution levels and MS exacerbations, Dr. Oikonen and colleagues compared levels of particulates, pollen, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants to hospital records of MS patients over 15 years. To allow for the presumed delay in health effects following exposure to pollutants, a one-month time lag between pollutant levels and exacerbation reports was built into the study.

Analysis showed that there was a significant correlation between the two variables. Specifically, the odds ratio of occurrence of relapse was four times as great after a peak concentration of inhalable particulate matter. Months of high particulate levels were followed by months of high relapse rates, and low particulate levels led to low relapse rates in the following month. Other pollutants did not show the same correlation.

"Our data shows that inhalable particulate matter may have a role in the development of MS exacerbations," Dr. Oikonen said.

Apart from predisposing to infections, he noted that the general activation of the immune system through mechanical irritation of the airways may also promote exacerbation. His group is currently undertaking a prospective examination of the immunological status of MS patients exposed to variable pollution levels.