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Study: Rate of multiple sclerosis higher in Syracuse than anywhere in the nation


According to a nationwide study, Syracuse has the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the country. The study, from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, looked at medical claims from more than 41 million people across the country. In New York State, 31 out of every 10,000 have MS. Nationally, 24 people per  10,000 have MS.

"But for Syracuse it’s 45 people per 10,000," said Richard Lockwood, chief medical officer for Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield, who called it a dramatic difference.

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, leading to a wide range of debilitating symptoms. Lockwood said there’s no clear cause of the disease, although genetics, a vitamin D deficiency, and viral infections are indicated in some cases.

As for why the Syracuse rate is so high?

"Is it our population mix, are there some secondary factors that we don’t know? Are there secondary viruses here? Is it truly a lack of sunshine? We don’t know," he said.

There’s no cure but treatments can slow the progress of the disease.  Lockwood says those medications can be very expensive, because few of them are generic at this point. 

Lockwood said the report also finds MS isn’t the only health issue for these individuals.

"Many of these people have a high rate of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and significant problems with depression and other behavioral health issues," he said. "And they also can get dementia with this after a period of time."

Lockwood said he would like to see  more studies about why there is such a high rate of MS in central New York.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.