I've read a lot, based on both personal and professional interest, on autoimmune diseases over the years. But I had no idea until this week that the Pacific Northwest has one of the highest rates in the world of one such disorder, multiple sclerosis.
Investigate West and NPR station KUOW are now exploring this issue and have recently posted pieces on the rise in pediatric cases and on the MS research coming out of that region. From one of the articles:
The prevalence is so high here that the Northwest chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has posted giant billboards around the city for the past several years asking questions like these: Is it the trees? Is it the rain?
The questions may have been rhetorical, but the billboards were a reminder of the need to keep digging for answers about what causes MS.
On a macro scale, scientists actually do know why the rate appears elevated here.
“It’s really the fact we have people here whose genetic background comes from Northern Europe -- and that’s the genetic component,” said Dr. George Kraft, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at the University of Washington. “And there’s an environmental component. And it may well relate to reduced vitamin D levels. It may relate to other things in this area.”
But what other things? That’s the question [that] researchers are tackling now.