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Clin Microbiol Rev. 1993 October; 6(4): 382–427.
PMCID: PMC358295

Epidemiologic evidence for multiple sclerosis as an infection.


The worldwide distribution of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be described within three zones of frequency: high, medium, and low. The disease has a predilection for white races and for women. Migration studies show that changing residence changes MS risk. Studies of persons moving from high- to low-risk areas indicate that in the high-risk areas, MS is acquired by about age 15. Moves from low- to high-risk areas suggest that susceptibility is limited to persons between about ages 11 and 45. MS on the Faroe Islands has occurred as four successive epidemics beginning in 1943. The disease appears to have been introduced by British troops who occupied the islands for 5 years from 1940, and it has remained geographically localized within the Faroes for half a century. What was introduced must have been an infection, called the primary MS affection (PMSA), that was spread to and from successive cohorts of Faroese. In this concept, PMSA is a single widespread systemic infectious disease (perhaps asymptomatic) that only seldom leads to clinical neurologic MS. PMSA is also characterized by a need for prolonged exposure, limited age of susceptibility, and prolonged incubation. I believe that clinical MS is the rare late outcome of a specific, but unknown, infectious disease of adolescence and young adulthood and that this infection could well be caused by a thus-far-unidentified (retro)virus.

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