March 2, 2004
A SURVEY carried out by a neurologist in St. Vincent's hospital in Dublin has found Donegal has a far higher level of Multiple Sclerosis than Wexford.
Chris McGuigan believes the reason for the variance is the high level of Scottish heritage in Donegal.
According to a report in 'The Sunday Times' this weekend the historical influx of settlers from Scotland and Northern Europe has left those living in the north of Ireland generally at a greater risk of contracting the neurological condition.
Mr. McGuigan surveyed GPs, hospital doctors, support groups, respite centres and pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to establish definitive MS rates in the north west and Southeast.
In Donegal 240 cases were identified, giving a prevalence of 184.6 per 100,000 while 126 Wexford cases resulted in a rate of 120.7 per 100,000.
"The difference of 63.9 per 100,000 is statistically significant," said McGuigan.
Blood samples taken taken from about 400 MS sufferers in both counties were tested for two rogue alleles - alternate forms of gene. Seventy nine of the Donegal group tested positive for the first allele and 77 for the second. This compared to 55 for the first and 56 for the second in Wexford.
MS is a neurological that effects the central nervous system and can be chronic. It affects walking balance, vision and speech sufferers, most aged between 20 and 40.
Scientists have already established that populations with a Scottish or Nordic ancestry are more likely to carry the genetic traits that lead to an individual being more susceptible to MS.
McGuigan and his team believe that Scottish emigration to Donegal is likely to be the main factor in the genetic differences between the two counties.
The plantation of Ulster brought many Scots to Donegal in the 1600's while the ancestors of local families such as the MacSweeneys came to the county even earlier to work as mercenary soldiers for the ruling O'Donnell clan.
While an environmental cause for the different rates of MS between the north and the south now seems less likely it is not discounted completely.
"A person can be genetically predisposed to MS but there also needs to be something to get the ball rolling. We cannot at this stage discount an environmental trigger," he said.
The findings were presented to a meeting of MS Ireland two weeks ago.
Copyright © 2004, Trinity Mirror Plc