Melbourne, Nov 20 : A vaccine being trialled in Europe may help prevent the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis (MS).
A team of researchers at the University of Queensland has confirmed that the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever, is linked to multiple sclerosis.
They said that the vaccine, developed to combat glandular fever, could save thousands of lives.
However, some doctors have warned that the vaccine has not been fully tested as a preventive for multiple sclerosis and does not take into account the influence of genetic and environmental factors, which can also trigger the disease.
Over 99 per cent of people with MS have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus during their lifetime but those who contract the virus in the first few years of life show no symptoms.
Those who contract the virus in their teens or early 20s, usually develop glandular fever, or infectious mononucleosis, and suffer from extreme fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, throat inflammation and weight loss.
Studies have shown that those people are more likely to go on to develop multiple sclerosis later in life.
Michael Pender, the study's lead researcher and a neurologist at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, said the glandular fever vaccine, once fully tested, could be included in Australia's childhood vaccine program for people who had a diagnosed relative.
"It may only help some people, but it is a step in the right direction," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him, as saying.
However, Robert Booy, a professor in pediatrics with the National Centre for Immunisation Research at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said it was still too early to label the virus as the main driver behind the disease, and until scientists could establish the exact cause, it was impossible to ensure a vaccine did not contain proteins which could trigger multiple sclerosis.
Bill Carroll, the scientific chairman of MS Research Australia, said that he was excited that the link between Epstein-Barr and multiple sclerosis had been further confirmed, but remained cautious about the efficacy of a vaccine.