MALE military personnel are twice as likely to die from multiple sclerosis (MS) than in other jobs, according to a study by the Medical Research Council.
In a study titled “Mortality from multiple sclerosis in British military personnel”, scientists identified a possible link between the neurological disease and men servicing in the armed forces.
The authors said: “Men from the armed forces in England and Wales have experienced elevated proportional mortality from MS in each of three successive decades.
“The consistency and statistical significance of the excess indicate that it is most unlikely to have occurred simply by chance.”
“Moreover, our findings suggest that it cannot be explained entirely by selective exclusion from other employment when leaving the military, by low mortality in servicemen from the most common causes of death or by non-occupational factors related to social class.
MS has been linked to infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus which causes glandular fever
“The possibility of an unidentified occupational hazard remains.”
MS is where the immune system attacks the layer surrounding and protecting the nerves.
Symptoms include problems arm or leg movement, reduced vision and life expectancy is reduced on average by seven or nine years.
The researchers admitted that they were so far unable to explain the findings but concluded it was unlikely to be caused by chance.
Dr David Schley, from the MS Society, said: “We know different circumstances, such as where you live and work, play a role.
“This research suggests being in the army may increase the risk.
“We welcome more studies to help us understand how we can prevent MS.’
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The causes for MS are complex and can be due to a number of factors.
“As the study itself notes, more research is needed.”
MS is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.
It has been linked to infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus which causes glandular fever.
The authors of the research said it could be due to the close proximity that military recruits live and work which might help transmit infections that later trigger MS.
It is unclear if the affect is similar for women.
Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS.