If you’ve ever suffered from mononucleosis (commonly known as mono), you know how unpleasant it can be. Sometimes called “the kissing disease,” the mono virus is transmitted through saliva and causes extreme fatigue, sore throat, fever, headache and a skin rash.
Mono actually originates from the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and now a new study has shown that it is linked to seven other major diseases: systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. Combined, these diseases affect nearly 8 million people in the United States.
The study was conducted by scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and published in the journal Nature Genetics. Dr. John Harley, director of the Center for Autoimmune Genomics and Etiology (CAGE) at Cincinnati Children’s and a faculty member of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, led the study.
“Now, using genomic methods that were not available 10 years ago, it appears that components made by the virus interact with human DNA in the places where the genetic risk of disease is increased,” Harley told Science Daily. “And not just for lupus, but all these other diseases, too."
The EBV virus is extremely common, and once a person is infected, the virus remains with them for their entire life. So far, no vaccine exits to prevent the virus, but scientists are hopeful that their findings will lead to additional studies that could result in prevention methods and therapies in the future.
The scientists also believe the impact of the link will vary across the different diseases. For example, the virus could be linked to a large percentage of cases of lupus and MS. Their study also has implications beyond the seven new diseases linked to EBV.
“Our study has uncovered potential leads for many other diseases, including breast cancer,” Harley said. “We cannot possibly follow up on all of these, but we are hoping that other scientists will.”