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Catching the ‘kissing disease’ in teens may increase a person’s risk of developing MS

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Catching the “kissing disease” could cause some people to develop multiple sclerosis (MS) later in life, a new study finds.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) in England found that people who were infected with mononucleosis at a young age were more likely to develop MS in the future.

It was previously believed that people who were genetically at higher risk for MS were more likely to have a severe case of mono if they were exposed, although researchers have now reversed the correlation.

Researchers found that being infected with the condition in childhood or adolescence put a person most at risk for developing MS about a decade later.

Getting mono in early adulthood did not correlate much with an increased risk of MS.

A young person who gets mono, often referred to as ‘kissing disease’, can seriously increase the chance of developing MS later in life (file photo)

Mono is a disease that is often transmitted through saliva, giving it the nickname 'kissing disease'.  It is especially common in teenagers

Mono is a disease that is often transmitted through saliva, giving it the nickname ‘kissing disease’. It is especially common in teenagers

Mononucleosis is an infectious disease that is often spread through saliva.

Many people, especially teenagers, get the condition by kissing a person who is infected, hence the nickname “kissing disease.”

Researchers collected medical records from more than 2.4 million people to investigate the link between the disease and MS.

Since MS is often linked to genetic factors, the team had to find a way to control people’s inherent genetic risk of developing MS.

They also wanted to get around the long-standing belief that the same factors that cause MS can also cause more notable cases of mono.

To do this, they found data from people who had contracted mono and compared them with siblings who had not contracted the disease, or siblings who had contracted it at a different age.

‘Siblings share much of their genetic makeup and have similar family lives. When a sibling develops [mono] and continues to develop MS while the other does not develop [mono] and not develop MS, that would suggest that it is the glandular fever rather than a genetic predisposition that led to the MS,” Scott Montgomery, lead researcher and professor at UCL, wrote in a report.

They also divided the participants into three age groups, ten years or younger, 11 to 19 and 20 to 24.

For the under-10 age group, people who contracted mono accounted for 0.16 percent of people who didn’t develop MS, and 0.27 percent of those who did — a 68 percent increase.

The strongest increase was in the 11 to 19 age group, where those who had mono represented 0.72 percent of those who did not develop MS, but 1.84 percent of those who did.

That’s a sharp increase of 155 percent, putting people who get the disease from 11 to 19 at the highest risk.

However, once a person turns 20, the dangers of mono diminish.

Researchers found that people aged 20 to 24 who were infected with the disease made up 0.2 percent of those who did not develop MS and 0.29 percent of those who did.

While it’s an increase, the team didn’t think it was significant enough to draw conclusions from.

The researchers also found that MS develops quite slowly, with a majority of people not showing signs until they were already 30 years old.

It could be more than a decade before someone who gets mono to later develop MS gives doctors enough time to potentially treat a high-risk person and avoid the worst effects of the disease

It could be more than a decade before someone who gets mono to later develop MS gives doctors enough time to potentially treat a high-risk person and avoid the worst effects of the disease

This means that although mono causes the condition, it can take more than a decade before the impact is really felt.

‘[Mono] during the teenage years can cause MS because it can get into the brain,” wrote Montgomery.

“And the damage it does to nerve cells can cause the immune system to attack a part of the nerves that insulates them, the myelin sheath.”

‘When the immune system is activated in this way, it is called autoimmunity. Once it starts, it can damage nerves in the brain that can get progressively worse over the years.”

The condition, MS, is a potentially debilitating disease that attacks a person’s nervous system.

It causes the immune system to attack the protective sheath of nerves — called the myelin sheath — and causes a person’s brain to miscommunicate with the rest of the body.

In the worst case, a person can no longer walk or even become paralyzed.

However, how slow the process is can be beneficial, as it gives a large time frame in which a person who gets mono and starts to develop MS slowly can begin treatment.

“Fortunately, modern treatments are becoming more effective at slowing down this process,” Montgomery wrote.

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