Sept. 5 - When TV talk-show host Montel Williams disclosed last month that he'd been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, fresh attention was focused on the degenerative neurological disease that afflicts a third of a million Americans.
But if you live in Colorado, chances are you already know someone who has MS. Colorado has one of the highest MS rates, per capita, in the nation. Minnesota ranks first, but one out of every 800 Coloradans has MS, which means MS is ten times as common in Colorado as in states along the southern tier of the U.S.
For reasons that remain as mysterious as the cause and the cure for MS, the disease is most common along and north of the 40th parallel - Baseline Road in Boulder. The "high risk" area north of the 40th parallel holds up throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
MS, whose symptoms include difficulty in walking and the buildup of fibrous scar tissue on muscles, strikes Caucasians more often than other ethnic groups. Women are twice as likely as men to be stricken. The demographics also show that better-educated people are more susceptible.
Nationwide, MS is the most commonly diagnosed neurological disease for adults between ages 20 and 50. The average age at which MS is diagnosed is 32.
About 30 percent of all MS victims eventually must use wheelchairs, said Charlotte Schmidt, vice president of the 20-year-old Rocky Mountain MS Center in Englewood. Schmidt noted that the common perception of MS as an imminent death sentence is false.
Serious research on MS started only in the mid-1970s, she said, and the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota has been a major research center. The Rocky Mountain MS Center - which is not a chapter of the National MS Society - also has done pioneering work in the field, she said.
"Here at the center, we've been able to isolate an MS virus that's a
cousin of the common cold. At the Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans,
that virus was taken from a human brain and introduced to primates. During
the last eight months, research with that virus was also done in Canada."