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Kissing Disease and Multiple Sclerosis: What is their Relationship?

New study reveals link between kissing disease and multiple sclerosis

Lips of a woman

Photo: Pexels

LatinAmerican Post | Brandon Martínez Salazar

The well-known "kissing disease" or mononucleosis is an infection that is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is called that (kissing disease) because the virus that transmits it is spread through saliva and mainly affects adolescents or young adults. A common way to get it is by kissing another person or drinking liquids from the same glass.

Now, for years, the scientific community suspected the relationship of this disease with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). However, a study carried out by Harvard University has produced interesting data that provides solid evidence of the connection that “kissing disease” has with MS.

Symptoms and illness

Currently, about three million people around the world suffer from Multiple Sclerosis. Although in some cases the condition may be mild, it can also cause severe and incurable disabilities. Likewise, the symptoms of the person suffering from it worsen to the point of not being able to speak or walk.

Mononucleosis is a common disease that heals in a matter of weeks and its most frequent symptoms are: fatigue, fever, rash and swollen glands. However, the virus that transmits it establishes a lifelong latent infection in the host.

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What was found in the study?

In the investigation carried out by Harvard University, ten million American soldiers participated, whose work concluded (clearly and precisely) that the majority of cases of multiple sclerosis have their origin in EBV (Epstein-Barr Virus).

During the development of the study (which lasted twenty years) there were problems in determining that the cause of MS was EBV, since multiple sclerosis, apart from affecting between 10 and 15% of the population, is also considered a highly rare disease, because its first symptoms appear ten years after having incubated the Epstein-Barr virus.

In this sense, the researchers had to be quite careful, since the process required a large number of people to determine the link between the two diseases. For that reason, serum samples from serving military personnel were tested every two years in order to find more accurate results.

In effect, it was concluded that kissing disease is the main cause of multiple sclerosis and, at the same time, the risk of suffering from it is 32 times greater than from other types of infections.

Why is this advance important?

"This is a big step because it suggests that most cases of multiple sclerosis could be prevented by stopping EBV infection, and that targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for multiple sclerosis," said Alberto Ascherio, senior author of the study.

According to Ascheiro, there is currently no effective way to prevent Epstein-Barr. However, the creation of a vaccine or antiviral drugs could help prevent and cure multiple sclerosis.

Although the Moderna pharmaceutical company is working on a biological that will make it possible to eradicate EBV, for some experts there is still no clarity on the relationship between this disease and the cause of MS. For this reason, an antidote against the pathology would be essential to more precisely determine the origin of these cases.

"Ultimately, we won't be able to be sure that EBV is causing multiple sclerosis until we can see what impact preventing EBV infection has on the incidence of multiple sclerosis," explained Clare Walton, principal investigator at the Society of Multiple Sclerosis in the United Kingdom, MS Society.