Mononucleosis virus increases the risk of multiple sclerosis by 32 times – 05/04/2022

Most people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have had contact with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis, at some point in their lives. Although this relationship is known to experts, blaming the viral infection on the autoimmune disease is not so simple.

A study released in mid-January, however, reinforces this association and calculates that the risk of developing sclerosis after the virus increases by 32 times.

The research, published by the scientific journal scienceevaluated blood plasma samples from more than 10,000 young American adults, collected every six months.

Of these, 955 were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. From the analysis, the researchers realized that young people infected with the mononucleosis virus had a higher risk of developing the autoimmune disease compared to other viral infections, also identified in the samples.

“Serum levels [quantidade de uma substância no sangue] light-chain neurofilament, a biomarker that indicates nerve degeneration — characteristic of multiple sclerosis [EM] —, increased only after Epstein-Barr infection. The findings cannot be explained by any other risk factors for MS, and suggest that the Epstein-Barr virus is the primary cause of MS.”

Other causes

According to Denis Bernardi Bichuetti, associate professor of Neurology at Escola Paulista de Medicina, Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), a cause-effect relationship cannot yet be confirmed, but the North American study demonstrates a trigger between the Epstein-Barr virus and multiple sclerosis.

“We knew that 100% of patients are positive for this virus, but 90% of the population has contact with Epstein-Barr, so it is not alone. Perhaps in the individual with a genetic predisposition, with vitamin D deficiency, who had obesity in the adolescence, if he has contact with the virus, there is 30 times more risk of developing multiple sclerosis than compared to those who did not have the infection”, explains the specialist, who is also a member of the Brazilian Academy of Neurology.

Although it is also not a cause-effect action, having low levels of vitamin D and obesity in adolescence (especially in the abdomen region), in addition to maintaining a diet rich in ultra-processed items, can contribute to triggering the disease. According to Bichuetti, the last two are factors that generate greater inflammation in the body, which is a condition associated with multiple sclerosis.

The specialist also points out that, in the North American research, the sample analyzed was of young military men – a profession that exposes the individual to high rates of stress, another pro-inflammatory condition. “It’s not just stress that develops multiple sclerosis, but maybe their sample is a little addicted,” he warns.

Regarding genetic causes, the professor explains that there is not much influence. “What we sometimes see is a family with some history of autoimmune disease. The mother has arthritis, the uncle has psoriasis. As it is a multifactorial disease, there may be a family component that promotes autoimmunity. But for some diseases, especially those with complex causes, just having the genetics is not enough”, he says.

warning symptoms

Demyelinating and autoimmune disease that compromises the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis happens when, due to a wrong action of the immune system, the myelin sheath (fat layer that surrounds the nerves) is attacked. With this, it impairs the conduction of nervous stimuli, and the person can manifest a series of symptoms.

Although they vary in intensity, some signs are more frequent, according to Rodrigo B. Thomaz, a neurologist specializing in demyelinating diseases at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein.

“The disease behaves very heterogeneously, both in the presentation of symptoms and in severity, depending on genetic combinations and environmental factors. But there is a pattern, which is more common: people with visual difficulties, altered sensitivity in the body, such as for example of temperature, touch and balance”, he exemplifies.

According to the specialist, the diagnosed individual may also present impairment in muscle strength, which leads to greater difficulty in walking. Signs of tingling in the arms and legs, changes in speech, cognitive function, and even impaired control of urine can signal the condition.

“When we talk about multiple sclerosis, it’s not hyperacute symptoms. If the person wakes up overnight without moving their arms, it’s a stroke [Acidente Vascular Cerebral]. In sclerosis, these are symptoms that occur over a period of weeks, and may disappear spontaneously. Tingling in the leg is most commonly associated with stress and visual loss with conjunctivitis. That’s why there is a delay in diagnosis”, adds Denis Bichuetti, professor of Neurology.

For the most part, symptoms tend to appear between the ages of 20 and 50, especially among women.

The diagnosis is made through the analysis of symptoms and tests such as blood and liquor, in addition to magnetic resonance imaging of the skull and cervical spine. “Multiple sclerosis lesions sometimes resemble those of HIV, hepatitis B, lupus, so it is necessary to exclude other diagnoses”, reinforces Bichuetti.

How to treat?

Currently available treatments for the disease range from immunosuppressive drugs — which decrease the immune system’s aggression to the myelin sheath — to non-pharmacological measures. In this case, stress control and maintenance of healthy habits, such as adequate nutrition and regular exercise, help to control the evolution of the disease.

“We know that patients who put these measures into practice not only feel better, but also reduce the accumulation of injuries and future disability from the disease”, highlights Bichuetti.

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She's our PC girl, so anything is up to her. She is also responsible for the videos of Play Crazy Game, as well as giving a leg in the news.

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