Possible link between HIV and lower risk of MS

Published date: 04 Aug 2014 at 3:32PM

Analysis of NHS records over 12 years has revealed a lower prevalence of MS in people with HIV.

A new study has looked at a potential link between HIV and MS. Researchers discovered that fewer people with HIV than expected developed MS compared to people without HIV.

However, the study doesn’t establish if this reduced risk was due to the HIV virus itself (which potentially suppresses the immune system), or as a result of the antiretroviral drug therapy commonly taken by people with HIV.

While other viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus have been linked to MS, it is not clear if either HIV or antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV could play a role in preventing or treating MS.

Studying NHS patient records

Researchers in Australia and the UK studied anonymised NHS patient records of people diagnosed with HIV. As the records covered a 12-year period, they could identify which people also went on to develop MS. They similarly identified people without HIV who developed MS in the same period.

They next compared these two groups, and discovered that the proportion of people diagnosed with MS was lower in people with HIV.

Importantly, the records available to the researchers did not state what type of treatment the people with HIV were taking. Although it is very likely that they were receiving antiretroviral drugs, neither this information, nor the individual drug they were taking is known for certain.

Valuable study but more work needed

Dr. Emma Gray, Research Communications Manager at the MS Society, said:

“This is a valuable and intriguing new study, and the first to show a significant link between HIV and a reduced risk of MS.

“Much more research is needed to definitively prove whether having HIV or being treated for HIV with antiretrovirals, or even a combination of the two, reduces the risk of someone developing MS.

“We know that people with MS want new, effective treatments and this study provides some encouragement that antiretrovirals could be a potential future option. Clinical trials are the only way to determine this and the good news is there is a London-based trial ongoing which is aimed at testing one such drug.”

This research was carried out by scientists at The Albion Centre, Sydney, Queen Mary University, London and the University of Oxford and was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

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