Did we inherit Scottish MS gene

Liz Coates THE legacy of Great Yarmouth's world famous fishing industry is written through the town's museums and archives like lettering through a stick of rock.

Liz Coates

THE legacy of Great Yarmouth's world famous fishing industry is written through the town's museums and archives like lettering through a stick of rock.

But scientists studying the prevalence of multiple sclerosis are beginning to suspect a genetic inheritance from a time when Yarmouth was one of the busiest fishing ports on the planet, providing work for an estimated 6,000 seasonal workers on and

off-shore in a multitude of trades.

Among them were the Scottish fisher girls, who came to the town in great numbers to gut and salt down the fish in barrels for export, and who, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Society, whose awareness week ends today, could be responsible for a higher than usual incidence of the disease.

Although scientifically unproven, head of communications Matthew Trainer said there was “credible” evidence to support the theory which was helping to understand the causes and prevalence of the disease and target resources.

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He said in Scotland MS

was five times more

prevalent than in England, where the incidence was

1 in 1,000, adding that a significant population movement could drive up the prevalence of the disease.

“The rate of MS is very heavily influenced by where you live, and the further north you go the more common it gets. There are a couple of theories about fish oils in diets and the effects of sunlight and vitamin D.

“We do find that when you have population movements from Scotland rates could go up, and there is a small genetic component. It is a mysterious condition and we are finding out more and more about what causes it.

“As far as East Anglia goes, there have been a number of studies looking at prevalence and there does seem to be a suggestion that rates are higher there. But the health service does not keep records of everyone that has MS as they do in other countries. There is nothing cast-iron; we do not know what causes MS for sure.”

Mr Trainer said MS was a devastating disease, with see-saw symptoms characterised by grinding fatigue, nerve pain, sight and swallowing problems, which made it difficult to plan and lead a normal life. Although not necessarily affecting life expectancy. quality of life was greatly affected.

MS sufferer Keith Bright, of Lowestoft Road, Gorleston, who is an active member of the Great Yarmouth branch, was out fundraising this week, hoping to add to a £6m pot for research.

Although not originally from Yarmouth, he said he was fascinated by the theory.

He said the recently reformed branch had more than 40 members and was growing all the time.

“There are lots of people out there who are not members ,which is fine, but we want them to know that we are still here for them and their families,” he added.

The MS Society's helpline for sufferers and their families is 0808 8008000.

To contact the local branch call 07758123653 and leave a message.