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Woman living with multiple sclerosis for 20 years says latest research offers hope for answers – CBC.ca

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The news that the Epstein-Barr virus plays a role in triggering multiple sclerosis has brought “reassurance” to Allison Markin, who has been living with the condition for two decades. 

“It potentially answers the question that I’ve had for almost 20 years: Why did I get MS? [And] how did I get it?” said Markin, who lives in Penticton, B.C. 

“When you are diagnosed with any illness … you wonder, what did I do? Did I do something wrong? Did I eat something wrong? Did I hurt myself?” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway. 

Markin was diagnosed with MS in 2003, a potentially disabling disease where immune system cells attack the protective coating on nerve fibres. She’s heard many theories about what triggers the condition — including a suggestion, offered by a naturopath when she was first diagnosed, that a nerve was damaged when she had a wisdom tooth removed.

But last week, Harvard University researchers presented a large-scale study that they say provides compelling evidence of a causal association between MS and Epstein-Barr (EBV). This type of herpes virus is widespread in humans, but the researchers say their findings strongly suggest it sets some people on the path to developing MS.

If it was a virus and that’s no fault of mine or anybody else’s, that gives me a little bit of comfort, frankly– Allison Markin

Markin had Epstein-Barr 10 years before her MS diagnosis.

“If it was a virus and that’s no fault of mine or anybody else’s, that gives me a little bit of comfort, quite frankly,” Markin said.

The Harvard study accessed blood samples stored from more than 10 million people in the U.S. military, taken between 1993 and 2013. Recruits who did not show signs of previous EBV infection were tracked, with a subsequent comparison between those who later developed MS, and those who did not. 

Only one of 801 MS patients did not show evidence of prior EBV infection, and researchers said they found no evidence that other viral infections played a role.

The link between EBV and MS has long been suspected among researchers, but Toronto physician Dr. Jiwon Oh said the Harvard research puts that speculation to rest. 

“Because of the size of this study and how long that these people were followed over time, this has given us really strong evidence showing that there likely is a causal link,” said Oh, medical director of the Barlo Multiple Sclerosis Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Dr. Jiwon Oh is medical director of the Barlo Multiple Sclerosis Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

But while EBV affects almost 90 per cent of the human population, the infection does not mean a patient will definitely develop MS. Figures from the MS Society of Canada suggest an estimated 90,000 Canadians are living with the disease, or one in every 400 people.

“It’s probably a combination of many things, including genetics, as well as potentially other environmental factors that all come together with having had an Epstein-Barr virus [infection],” Oh said.

Disease is like a ‘part-time job’

Markin said her MS affects her vision, and brings numbness in her hands. It also leaves some of her muscles weak, and affects her ability to walk.

But the symptoms vary day to day, so each morning she does a “systems check,” to figure out how much she’ll be able to do that day.

“It’s been part of my identity for 20 years, and it’s easier for me to think of it as a part-time job,” she said.

“I live with it, I manage it and I continue with my life.”

The Epstein-Barr virus, which infects most people at some point in their life, as seen through an electron microscope. Researchers have linked the virus to the later development of multiple sclerosis. (Linda Bartlett/National Cancer Institute)

That involves “figuring out what helps me, what makes me feel better, what may trigger inflammation,” she said. She also consults with her health-care team about what treatments are available “to manage my symptoms better than the day before.”

Oh said the Harvard study’s findings probably won’t have an immediate impact on existing treatments for MS, but she doesn’t want people to think the research won’t contribute in the long run. 

It may be used to help draw support for additional studies, she said, as well as “fuel, number one, the development of an EBV vaccine.”

Some research to develop Epstein-Barr vaccines is already underway, including a small study just started by Moderna.

Oh thinks the research will speed up the vaccine development time frame, but warned that “good science and good therapeutics take time” — possibly “many, many years.”

Markin said the idea that we will one day be able to stop people from developing MS is “very exciting.”

“But the hope for me is that someone who might be going through symptoms — today, tomorrow, next year — will get better answers than I did when I was first diagnosed,” she said.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from the Associated Press. Produced by Julie Crysler, Matt Meuse and Ryan Chatterjee. 

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U.S. CDC publishes guidelines on monkeypox vaccine – Financial Post

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday published recommendations by its group of independent experts on a smallpox vaccine that limit its use to only people who work closely with viruses such as monkeypox.

The Jynneos vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, will be available for certain healthcare workers and laboratory personnel at a time when monkeypox infections has spread in Europe, United States and beyond.

The vaccine was approved in the United States in 2019 to prevent smallpox and monkeypox in high risk adults aged 18 and older.

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CDC officials earlier this week said they were in the process of releasing some doses of the Jynneos vaccine for people in contact with known monkeypox patients.

Officials said there were over 100 million doses of an older smallpox vaccine called ACAM2000, made by Emergent BioSolutions , which has significant side effects.

Monkeypox is a mild viral infection that is endemic in certain parts of Africa, but the recent outbreak in countries where the virus doesn’t usually spread has raised concerns.

So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating. The World Health Organization has called for quick action from countries to contain the Monkeypox spread.

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The CDC said its experts’ recommendations are meant for clinical laboratory personnel performing diagnostic tests for orthopoxviruses such as smallpox and monkeypox, laboratory people doing research on the viruses and healthcare workers who administer the ACAM2000 vaccine or care for patients infected with orthopoxviruses.

The publication of the vote by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which took place in November last year, formalizes the recommendations.

Both ACAM2000 and Jynneos are available for prevention of orthopoxvirus infections among at-risk people, the CDC said on Friday. (Reporting by Manas Mishra and Amruta Khandekar in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri and Shailesh Kuber)

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LGBTQ advocates fear monkeypox stigma could 'spread like a virus' – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Advocates warn that stigma could pose a public health threat as a cluster of monkeypox cases stokes concern in the queer community.

Health authorities are investigating more than two dozen confirmed monkeypox cases in Canada as part of an unprecedented outbreak of the rare disease that seldom spreads outside Africa.

Twenty-five infections have been confirmed in Quebec and one in Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday, predicting the tally will rise in coming days.

While everyone is susceptible to the virus, clusters of cases have been reported among men who have sex with men, officials say.

For some LGBTQ advocates, this raises the spectre of sexual stigmatization that saw gay and bisexual men scapegoated for the spread of HIV-AIDS in the 1980s. Others say the early detection of the monkeypox cases by sexual health clinics shows how the queer community has mobilized to dismantle shame and promote safe practices.

Canada’s deputy chief public health officer said he’s mindful of the potential for stigma and discrimination, reiterating that the virus’s spread isn’t limited to any specific group or sexual orientation.

The disease can be contracted through close contact with a sick person, including but not limited to sexual activity, Dr. Howard Njoo told a news conference Thursday. Scientists are still working to determine what’s driving cross-border transmission of the virus.

But as early signs suggest the virus is currently circulating in certain communities, authorities are working with partners on the ground to raise awareness among those at elevated risk of exposure, Njoo said.

Quebec officials said both transparency and sensitivity are needed to contain the outbreak and provide care to those infected.

“Stigmatization is really a big challenge in controlling this disease, so we’re trying to fight it,” Montreal public health official Dr. Genevieve Bergeron told reporters Thursday. “It’s important to understand that our enemy is the virus, it’s not the people who are affected.”

Aaron Purdie, executive director of the Health Initiative for Men in B.C., said he worries that the spread of stigma could present a greater threat than the disease itself, citing the lasting legacy of the panic and prejudice around HIV-AIDS in the early years of the epidemic.

“Stigma spreads like a virus,” Purdie said. “Yes, it’s treatable. Yes, it’s containable. But it spreads nonetheless.”

Beyond its corrosive societal harms, stigma can deter people from accessing testing and treatment, as they fear how a diagnosis could jeopardize their social standing, employment and safety, Purdie said.

These concerns are particularly potent among LGBTQ people given their long history of discrimination by the health-care system, said Purdie. That’s why it’s vital that public health agencies assist queer activists, educators and clinicians in leading the monkeypox response.

“We all hold trauma from our histories, and the reality is when something like monkeypox comes in, it scares people,” he said.

“We need to decrease the stigma. Because if we don’t, people aren’t able to fully express their identities, and … (that has the) downstream effect of making the community sicker.”

Dane Griffiths, director of the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance of Ontario, said stigma thrives in silence, so one of the most effective strategies to combat it is to provide timely and accurate information without “shame or blame.”

The alliance is working to do just that by sharing the latest developments about the virus, encouraging people to pay attention to the risks and take steps to protect themselves.

Griffiths said obscuring the risk the virus poses to the queer community could prompt people to drop their guard.

“I wouldn’t want that to be an opportunity for the community to tune this out,” said Griffiths.

Instead, the queer community should be commended for helping authorities track the virus’s spread by getting tested at sexual health clinics in such high numbers, which could be a factor in why so many cases have been identified in men who have sex with men, Griffiths said.

“There are gay and bisexual men who have been showing up around the world at clinics and doctor’s offices and are being seen and therefore counted,” said Griffiths. “That’s a good thing, and it’s actually to be encouraged within our community.”

More than two years into the pandemic, University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman said he hopes people have realized infectious disease doesn’t discriminate on the basis of identity, so we don’t see a resurgence of the stigma and bigotry that pervaded our initial responses to both COVID-19 and HIV-AIDS.

“This is kind of a litmus test to see if we’ve moved on as a society, if we’re capable of looking at illness without … the cruelty of laying stigma on people,” said Bowman.

– with files from Jacob Serebrin in Montreal

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

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Canada raids emergency stockpile to send medical equipment to Ukraine

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OTTAWA — Canada has tapped into its own strategic stockpile of emergency medical supplies — stored for a national emergency — to help Ukraine.

It has donated over 375,000 items of medical equipment and medicines from Canada’s strategic stockpile since the invasion by Russia began.

This includes first aid and trauma kits, medicines and surgical instruments, as well as gloves, masks and gowns.

Canada’s health minister also helped push through an international resolution on rebuilding Ukraine’s besieged health-care system in Geneva this week.

Jean-Yves Duclos held bilateral talks to help get the votes required for the resolution, which Canada co-sponsored with Ukraine at the World Health Assembly meeting.

The Ukrainian motion, voted for by 88 countries to 12, with 43 abstentions, follows attacks on Ukraine’s health-care facilities and equipment, including ambulances, by Russian forces.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

 

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