MS prevalence in New Zealand, an ethnically and latitudinally diverse country

Mult Scler. 2010 Dec;16(12):1422-31. doi: 10.1177/1352458510379614. Epub 2010 Sep 2.


Background: The prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) is not uniform, with a latitudinal gradient of prevalence present in most studies. Understanding the drivers of this gradient may allow a better understanding of the environmental factors involved in MS pathogenesis.

Method: The New Zealand national MS prevalence study (NZMSPS) is a cross-sectional study of people with definite MS (DMS) (McDonald criteria 2005) resident in New Zealand on census night, 7 March 2006, utilizing multiple sources of notification. Capture-recapture analysis (CRA) was used to estimate missing cases.

Results: Of 2917 people with DMS identified, the crude prevalence was 72.4 per 100,000 population, and 73.1 per 100,000 when age-standardized to the European population. CRA estimated that 96.7% of cases were identified. A latitudinal gradient was seen with MS prevalence increasing three-fold from the North (35°S) to the South (48°S). The gradient was non-uniform; females with relapsing-remitting/secondary-progressive (RRMS/SPMS) disease have a gradient 11 times greater than males with primary-progressive MS (p < 1 × 10(-7)). DMS was significantly less common among those of Māori ethnicity.

Conclusions: This study confirms the presence of a robust latitudinal gradient of MS prevalence in New Zealand. This gradient is largely driven by European females with the RRMS/SPMS phenotype. These results indicate that the environmental factors that underlie the latitudinal gradient act differentially by gender, ethnicity and MS phenotype. A better understanding of these factors may allow more targeted MS therapies aimed at modifiable environmental triggers at the population level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors