The discovery raises hopes for the future development of a cure for the disease, which affects nearly 2.8 million people worldwide.
About 95% of adults are infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which causes other diseases such as mononucleosis.
A study published this week in the prestigious journal Science shows that the virus is essential for the development of multiple sclerosis, although not all victims develop the disease.
The hypothesis has been studied for many years, but it is particularly difficult to prove that this virus is very common and that symptoms do not appear until about ten years after infection.
Alberto Asserio, principal professor of epidemiology at the Harvard University School of Public Health, said it was “the first study to provide conclusive evidence for the cause.”
“This is an important step because by stopping Epstein-Barr virus infection, most cases of multiple sclerosis can be prevented,” he said in a statement.
Researchers have been monitoring more than 10 million young people enlisted in the U.S. military for 20 years, 955 of whom have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. According to this study, the risk of multiple sclerosis infection increased 32-fold after Epstein-Barr virus infection, but remained unchanged after infection with other viruses.
Other factors, such as genetics, may or may not play a role in the development of the disease, according to Stanford University researchers who published the study’s review in the journal Science.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It causes a disorder of the immune system that attacks the envelope myelin, which is used to protect nerve fibers.
As recurrences develop, the disease varies greatly from patient to patient, but is one of the most common causes of disability leading to relapses and adolescents.
The American company Moderna announced last week that it had begun clinical trials in humans for a vaccine against the Epstein-Barr virus.
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