The debilitating disease multiple sclerosis (MS) could be caused by the herpes virus, Harvard University scientists have claimed.

Their study suggests that it could come from an infection of Epstein-Barr, which is a herpes virus which causes infectious mononucleosis.

This Epstein-Barr virus is highly contagious through saliva and can cause fatigue, fever, rash, and swollen glands.

Scientists think that it could also establish a latent, lifelong infection that may be a leading cause of multiple sclerosis.

Currently there is no known cure for the chronic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.

Ilkley Gazette: Most of the adult population have the Epstein-Barr virus (PA)Most of the adult population have the Epstein-Barr virus (PA)

As reported by The Independent research published in the journal Science on Thursday, January 13 looked at 955 young adults who were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while on active service in the military.

Compared with samples from 10 million military members, they found the risk of MS increased by a factor of 32-times after being infected by the Epstein-Barr virus. No other virus increased the risk of MS.

Could there be a cure for multiple sclerosis?

The study’s senior author Alberto Ascherio, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Chan School, said in a press release: "This is a big step because it suggests that most MS cases could be prevented by stopping EBV infection, and that targeting EBV could lead to the discovery of a cure for MS."

However, stopping Epstein-Barr will be difficult as it is present in around 95% of adults.

Mr Ascherio added that the delay between contracting the virus and developing MS symptoms could be due to the immune system being repeatedly stimulated when the latent virus reactivates.