Study: Common virus + low sunlight exposure may increase risk of MS

New research suggests that people who are exposed to low levels of sunlight coupled with a history of having a common virus known as mononucleosis may be at greater odds of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) than those without the virus. The research is published in the April 19, 2011, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"MS is more common at higher latitudes, farther away from the equator," said George C. Ebers, MD, with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Since the disease has been linked to environmental factors such as low levels of sun exposure and a history of infectious mononucleosis, we wanted to see whether the two together would help explain the variance in the disease across the United Kingdom."

Infectious mononucleosis is a disease caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, which is a Herpes virus that is extremely common but causes no symptoms in most people. However, when a person contracts the virus as a teenager or adult, it often leads to infectious mononucleosis. The body makes vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) light.

For the study, researchers looked at all to National Health Service hospitals in England over seven years. Specifically, they identified 56,681 cases of and 14,621 cases of infectious mononucleosis. Scientists also looked at NASA data on ultraviolet intensity in England.

The study found that adding the effects of sunlight exposure and mononucleosis together explained 72 percent of the variance in the occurrence of MS across the United Kingdom. Sunlight exposure alone accounted for 61 percent of the variance.

"It's possible that may lead to an abnormal response to the Epstein-Barr virus," Ebers said.

He noted that low in the spring was most strongly associated with MS risk. "Lower levels of UVB in the spring season correspond with peak risk of MS by birth month. More research should be done on whether increasing UVB exposure or using vitamin D supplements and possible treatments or vaccines for the Epstein-Barr could lead to fewer cases of MS."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Does smoking compound other MS risk factors?

Apr 07, 2010

A new study shows that smoking may increase the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) in people who also have specific established risk factors for MS. The research is found in the April 7, 2010, online issue of Neurology, the me ...

Sun exposure, vitamin D may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

Feb 07, 2011

People who spend more time in the sun and those with higher vitamin D levels may be less likely to develop multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study published in the February 8, 2011, print issue of Neurology, the me ...

Vaccine shows promise in preventing mono

Dec 10, 2007

A new study suggests that a vaccine targeting Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may prevent infectious mononucleosis, commonly known as “mono” or “glandular fever.” The study is published in the December 15 issue of The Jo ...

Epstein-Barr virus may be associated with progression of MS

Mar 02, 2009

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the pathogen that causes mononucleosis, appears to play a role in the neurodegeneration that occurs in persons with multiple sclerosis, researchers at the University at Buffalo and the University ...

Recommended for you

Birthday matters for wiring-up the brain's vision centers

9 hours ago

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have evidence suggesting that neurons in the developing brains of mice are guided by a simple but elegant birth order rule that allows them to find ...

How is depression related to dementia?

Jul 30, 2014

A new study by neuropsychiatric researchers at Rush University Medical Center gives insight into the relationship between depression and dementia. The study is published in the July 30, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the me ...

User comments