Geography in multiple sclerosis

J Neurol. 1977 Apr 28;215(1):1-26. doi: 10.1007/BF00312546.


Both mortality and morbidity data indicate quite clearly that multiple sclerosis is a geographically-related disease, and thus MS can be thought of as an acquired environmental (exogenous) illness. High frequency parts of the world for MS are Europe between 65 degrees and 45 degrees north latitude, northern United States and southern Canada, New Zealand, and southern Australia. These regions are bounded by medium frequency MS regions: in Europe to the north, east, and south; in America for southern U.S.; and the remainder of Australia. Latin America, Asia and Africa are essentially of low frequency from present data. Latitude is not a sufficient criterion: at 40 degrees north latitude, MS is high in America, medium in Europe, and low in Asia. All high and medium risk areas therefore are in Europe or European colonies; thus MS is the white man's burden spread from western Europe. Within the U.S., MS is less common among Negroes, Japanese, and possibly Amerindians than in whites regardless of geography. Migration studies among risk areas indicate that migrants keep much of the risk of their birthplace, but also that overall the risk is decreased by high-to-low migration, and probably increased by low-to-high. For the former, it seems that adolescence is the age critical for retention of birthplace risk. Some preliminary data on a possible epidemic of MS are also presented. All the epidemiologic information would be most easily explained if MS were an infectious (viral) illness with prolonged latency. The proof of this though must come from the laboratory.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Multiple Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • New Zealand
  • Racial Groups
  • United States