A study of 10M blood samples from active-duty military members, published in the journal Science, found that contracting the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), best known for causing mononucleosis, was associated with a 32-fold increase in getting an MS diagnosis. While experts were cautious not to conclude that EBV causes MS, it appears to at least be a trigger. What’s left unanswered is how EBV, which is infects an estimated 90 percent of Americans by age 35, leads some to develop MS, while the vast majority do not.
The Gist: It’s rare to have such a large, well-designed epidemiological study show a definitive and clear link between two diseases. Several viruses, including EBV and the human papillomavirus (HPV), have been linked with cancer; while more research is needed, it is theoretically possible vaccines targeted at EBV could reduce the risk of multiple sclerosis and certain cancers, similar to how HPV vaccines have successfully in lowered cervical cancer risk.
And with such a large portion of the global population expected to be infected with COVID-19, it will be critical to monitor whether that virus, too, is linked to the development of other diseases years later.