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Epidemiology. 2001 May;12(3):301-6.

Multiple sclerosis and age at infection with common viruses.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Increased risk of multiple sclerosis has been reported among individuals with a history of measles and other common childhood diseases during adolescence, infectious mononucleosis, or exposure to the canine distemper virus. We investigated these associations in a case-control study nested within the Nurses' Health Study (121,700 women traced since 1976) and the Nurses' Health Study II (116,671 women traced since 1989). Age at diagnosis of common viral diseases and birth order were obtained through a questionnaire. Our results include 301 cases with multiple sclerosis and their (up to six) matched controls. Except for infectious mononucleosis, which was a moderate risk factor (odds ratio = 2.1, 95% confidence interval = 1.5-2.9), we found little association between history of common viral diseases or exposure to canine distemper virus and risk of multiple sclerosis. We did find a relation between mumps after 15 years of age (odds ratio = 2.3, 95% confidence interval = 1.2-4.3) or measles after age 15 years of age (odds ratio = 2.8, 95% confidence interval = 0.8-9.1) and multiple sclerosis. Birth order was not materially related to multiple sclerosis. Our findings support the hypothesis that individuals who suffered from infectious mononucleosis, a marker of late infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, have an increased risk of multiple sclerosis. Late infection with other common viruses may also be associated with increased risk.

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