The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown, but a large new study suggests that a previous infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may be one cause. Epstein-Barr, which may be the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, infects more than 90% of the human population and can cause mononucleosis (also known as ?mono?) in adolescents and adults. The infection can last up to a month and cause fever, sore throat and swollen lymph glands.

In a study of more than 62,000 women, Dr. Alberto Ascherio of Harvard University and his colleagues found 18 women who had blood collected prior to their diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. They found that these women had higher antibody levels to EBV in their blood compared to people who did not have multiple sclerosis.

When the investigators looked at different types of EBV antibodies, they found that one in particular seemed to increase the risk of MS, which is characterized by muscle weakness, impaired balance, fatigue and other symptoms. Multiple sclerosis is the result of the slow destruction of myelin, the thin, protective coating that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spine.

Few people infected with EBV go on to develop multiple sclerosis, so other factors must be involved in causing the disease, Ascherio and colleagues say, ?These may include genetic predisposition and, perhaps, age at primary infection or infection with other microbes.?

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