Multiple sclerosis on rise in Australia

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Young Brisbane Heat cricketer Jemma Barsby naturally pulled up a little sore from three “full” days of bowling at an Aussie training camp.

When the then 19-year-old started experiencing numbness in her fingertips two weeks later those closest to her suspected something more sinister was at play.

They were right.

MRI scans revealed the talented all-rounder, daughter of former Queensland Bulls opening batsman and coach Trevor Barsby, had multiple sclerosis (MS).

“That’s how I unfortunately found out and yeah it was a very big shock, but I’ve only got it very mild at this stage which I am really thankful for,” Barsby says.

Sadly the 22-year-old is among a rising number of Australians being diagnosed with MS, a complex condition that usually strikes in a person’s 30s and affects mostly women.

New data from the Menzies Institute for Medical Research estimates 25,600 Australians now live with the neurological disorder, a rise of 4400 in eight years.

Dr Matthew Miles, MS Research Australia CEO says genetics alone can’t be responsible for the rise in prevalence.

“There has to be other environmental reasons and we also know that it can’t be just because we’re getting better at diagnosing it,” Dr Miles said.

Environmental factors already implicated in making a person susceptible to MS include vitamin D deficiency, smoking, and having had glandular fever caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV).

Despite the increasing personal and financial burden of MS on the community, one in two Australians can’t identify what causes the disease.

This has led to a call for greater awareness of the complex condition.

“MS remains a challenging condition placing a significant toll on young Australians. We really need to ensure it’s higher on the community radar and receives the attention it needs through our research efforts,” says Dr Hamish Campbell, Research Development Co-ordinator at MS Research Australia.

Barsby was also unaware of MS before her diagnosis and had to “Google” it.

She hopes by telling her story it will help others living with the “silent” disease.

“So if you have got friends or family out there that have, it’s always nice just to check in to see how they are going, because some days they might be going really well and other days they might be suffering more than usual,” she said.

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