Monday, September 22, 2008

MS rates higher farther from equator, atlas shows

Multiple sclerosis is more common among people living in northern latitudes, but they aren't the only ones affected, according to a new report.

The World Health Organization and the London-based Multiple Sclerosis International Federation published the MS Atlas on Wednesday. It summarizes information on the disease in 112 countries, none of which were free of the disease.

MS is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, and can lead to paralysis and sometimes blindness.

Some people with MS experience little disability during their lifetime. But up to 60 per cent are no longer fully able to walk 20 years after onset, which has major implications for their quality of life and costs to society, the report said. Symptoms appear around 30 years of age on average.

“The Atlas of MS reveals how these implications impact women more than men, by at least two to one, at an age when they are starting a family and developing a career,” said Dr. Benedetto Saraceno, director of the WHO's department of mental health and substance dependence.

The study confirms that MS is a global disease, not solely of the more developed “northern” and “western” countries, the report said.

In Canada alone, the economic impact totals more than $1 billion annually, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

Countries reporting the highest estimated prevalence, or total number of cases of MS at a particular point in time, were:

* Hungary at 176 per 100,000
* Slovenia 150 per 100,000.
* Germany 149 per 100,000.
* United States 135 per 100,000.
* Canada 132.5 per 100,000.
* Czech Republic 130 per 100,000.
* Norway 125 per 100,000.
* Denmark 122 per 100,000.
* Poland 120 per 100,000.
* Cyprus 110 per 100,000.

Countries reporting the highest estimated incidence or estimated number of new cases of MS were:

* Croatia 29 per 100,000.
* Iceland 10 per 100,000.
* Hungary 9.8 per 100,000.
* Slovakia 7.5 per 100,000.
* Costa Rica 7.5 per 100,000.
* United Kingdom 6.0 per 100,000.
* Lithuania 6.0 per 100,000.
* Denmark 5.9 per 100,000.
* Norway 5.5 per 100,000.
* Switzerland 5.0 per 100,000.

"Typically, our results confirmed the well established suggestion that there are strong geographical patterns to the disease and that the frequency of MS varies by geographical region throughout the world, increasing with distance from the equator in both hemispheres," the report said.

Low- and middle-income countries showed a lack of services and resources to care for people with MS. Poorer countries also had fewer diagnostic tools such as MS scanners, which means the disease is likely underrecorded in developing countries.

The atlas also compares how North and South America, Europe, Asia, Eastern Mediterranean and African countries offer resources to diagnose, treat, rehabilitate and support people with the MS.