Severe virus infections in teens may fuel MS development later in life

Brittany A. Roston - Oct 14, 2021, 7:00pm CDT
Severe virus infections in teens may fuel MS development later in life

A new study explores the link between certain viral infections during one’s youth and the onset of multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life. The autoimmune disease cannot be cured and though studies have shed light on how the condition may come about, there are still many mysteries that need to be unraveled.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which one’s own immune system attacks the body’s nerves, leading to eventual symptoms and increasingly severe disability. Though a number of drugs are now available that can, in many cases, slow the disease’s progression, there’s no known cure or way to prevent it — and, beyond that, there’s no clear trigger that fuels the disease’s onset.

Newly published studies have explored the potential link between severe viral infections during one’s youth and the onset of MS later in life. There’s a long-known association between the herpes virus and MS, for example, and one of the new studies sheds light on other potential illnesses that could increase the risk for certain people.

A severe central nervous system infection, as well as respiratory infections like pneumonia and mononucleosis, developed between the ages of 11 and 19, were linked with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis. The second study focuses specifically on mono infections, finding a strong role in the onset of MS later in life.

Of those who contracted mono (glandular fever) at ages 11 through 15, multiple sclerosis was more often diagnosed after the age of 30. The idea is that MS is a disease that typically progresses slowly and that the damage it causes to the brain will take time to manifest in the symptoms that lead to a diagnosis.

The researchers do note that the majority of people who developed these infections in their youth don’t go on to develop MS later in life; this may be due to, for example, genetic predisposition in some people increasing the risk.


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