Faroe Islands Mystery


This is an unfinished story on which Dr. Kurtzke and his colleagues have worked since the 1960s. Unexplained outbreaks of MS were reported in isolated groups of people during World War II, most famously among the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands in the far North Atlantic. According to local tradition and all the available medical records, MS was entirely unknown in these islands before large numbers of British soldiers were stationed there from 1940 to 1945. In 1943, the first resident Faroese had an onset of MS symptoms. By 1949, there were 16 of them, or 1 person with MS for every 1800 islanders.

This is the sort of statistical blip that might pinpoint the cause of a disease.

Dr. Kurtzke not only assembled unique sets of data on MS in the Faroes, he has also been involved in dozens of studies since then focused on triggering suspects. They included measles, polio, and canine distemper viruses — but none have remained on the hot list after careful statistical analyses.

Dr. Kurtzke continues his study of the Faroe Island data to this day, but the cause of the outbreak may never be established until more is understood about the cause of MS itself. Rather, the studies make some theories about what causes MS much less likely.

Neuroepidemiology, on the other hand, is now considered to be important to the effort to understand MS — and other neurologic diseases too — thanks to Dr. Kurtzke’s skill and persistence.

MS Ground Zero:  1   2   3   4   5

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