doctor looking at brain scans
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
April 4, 2024 ·  4 min read

Is a Virus We All Have Causing Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is a somewhat lesser-known ailment, but it can severely impact the body’s mobility and brain function. In recent years, roughly the last 20-30 it has become a much more common diagnosis. From Montel Williams, Selma Blair, and Christina Applegate, many celebrities have made it their mission to show fans life doesn’t have to end post-diagnosis. Until recently, healthcare professionals and scientists didn’t know the cause, now they believe it may be due to a common virus.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Simply put it is an auto-immune disorder in which the body’s own immune system no longer recognizes itself. In turn, the immune system attacks itself. It is a progressive disease, meaning it comes in phases or progresses over time. In addition to having a negative impact on the immune system, it also causes damage to the myelin that surrounds nerve cells. A diagnosis requires a blood test. Debris from damaged brain cells, called neurofilament light polypeptide is found in the blood.

Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis has a range of symptoms, it’s an unpredictable disease that impacts many regions of the body. Some symptoms include loss of mobility, the feeling of pins and needles throughout the body, and even loss of balance. Eventually, Multiple Sclerosis causes loss of bladder control, the ability to swallow or speak, and causes higher susceptibility to common colds or the flu. People typically end up in wheelchairs, with some completely bedridden in the last few years of their lives.

If someone you know has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, then you know it’s hard, but not just for them. Watching your loved one(s) deteriorate slowly, is such a painful process for everyone involved.

Epstein-Barr Virus is Thought to be the Cause

For years, scientists have been puzzled by the origins of Multiple Sclerosis. However, this year they discovered a possible cause, Epstein-Barr Virus. Gavin Giovannoni who is a Professor from Queen Mary University of London spoke with BBC Radio’s, James Gallagher. He explained there is, “very, very strong evidence that this virus is likely to be the cause of multiple sclerosis.”

Scientists have long thought this virus could be the cause there was no solid evidence, until now. Bill Robinson is an immunologist at Stanford University in California. Robinson wrote a paper that was published in the journal Nature. His research showed how the myelin sheath suffers from mistaken identity. This causes an attack by the “confused immune system” because the body thinks it’s fighting the Epstein-Barr Virus.

Read: 10 Ways Your Body May Be Telling You Something’s Wrong

What is Epstein-Barr Virus

According to the CDC, EBV is part of the herpes virus family and is transmitted through bodily fluids. Scientists have found that most people will come into contact with the virus at some point in their lives. Symptoms include fever, inflammation in the throat, lymph nodes, liver, or spleen. One of the most common diseases it causes is “Mono”, often referred to as “ the kissing disease” because its most common form of transmission is through saliva.

Diagnosis can be a challenge because symptoms are similar to other diseases, however, a blood test can accurately detect the virus. There is no specific treatment or prevention. Medical Professionals recommend avoiding sharing drinks and other saliva-transmitting objects like toothbrushes. Treatment recommendations are similar to that of a common cold, with lots of fluids and rest.

Making a Correlation Between Multiple Sclerosis and EBV.

A team from Harvard University did some research to dive deeper into the theory that this virus may cause Multiple Sclerosis. You can check out the study, published in the journal, Science. The Harvard team looked through samples from 10 million people. The study found, people who’ve not been infected with the Epstein-Barr Virus almost never get Multiple Sclerosis.

However, in participants that have, the probability increased by more than 30%. A crucial part of the data came from the US Military. They take blood samples from soldiers once, every two years. Department of Defense Serum Repository keeps the samples in freezers. Of those samples, soldiers who’d tested positive for EBV also were given an MS diagnosis around 5 years after the infection.

Possible Treatment or Prevention

Thus far, scientists have limited knowledge so there isn’t a guaranteed treatment. Although, there have been clinical trials involving the use of steroids or medications like Copaxone to slow progression or minimize damage during a period of relapse. Results have been mostly positive but are so hard on the body that doctors only prescribe them in extreme cases. Furthermore, a round of treatment can only be used so many times before a new treatment plan is made.

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that deeply impacts the whole body. It causes disruption to the lives of those with the diagnosis and to their families. It is not incredibly common but seems to be emerging more frequently in recent years. 3 million or so, people have been diagnosed, worldwide. MS has stumped scientists and medical professionals for years. However, in recent years scientists have discovered some helpful insights into how Multiple Sclerosis comes about. This understanding may ultimately lead scientists to discover more effective treatments and maybe one day a cure.

Keep Reading: Is the Y Chromosome Disappearing – and What Will Happen To Men?


  1. About Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 3, 2022.
  2. Is a virus we all have causing multiple sclerosis?BBC News. James Gallagher. April 14.
  3. Clonally expanded B cells in multiple sclerosis bind EBV EBNA1 and GlialCAM. Nature News. Tobias V. Lanz, et al. January 24, 2022.