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Q. Why was this study done?
A. We conducted this study because of a report of a possible cluster (unusual number of cases) of multiple sclerosis (MS) among children who grew up in the Kern Place–Mission Hills area of El Paso in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s and because of related environmental concerns.
Q. What did this study find?
A. We found 14 cases of definite and probable MS among former Mesita students. Based on national MS prevalence estimates, we would have expected to see only seven cases. Overall, for former Mesita students, there were twice as many people with MS as we would have expected to find, based on national rates. No cases were reported for the E.B. Jones cohort.
Q. Why are there more cases of MS than expected among the former Mesita students?
A. We do not know. This study was designed only to identify and count the number of MS cases to determine if there was a true excess of cases. The number of MS cases that were found was not big enough to allow the scientific investigation of possible causes. We are currently working with other states to find out if a larger study pooling multiple MS clusters would allow us to study the causes of MS.
Q. Am I more likely to get MS because I attended Mesita?
A. Among those students that attended Mesita from 1948 through 1970, we found that twice as many had MS as we would have expected. We don't know why that is the case since the cause of MS is not clearly established. Previous studies have indicated that environmental, viral, and genetic factors all may contribute to the development of MS. But exact causal factors of MS are still unknown. If you are concerned that you may have MS or be at risk for MS, we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Q. Why are there no cases of MS among former E.B. Jones students?
A. There were no cases of MS reported by former E.B. Jones students. We cannot say for certain that there are no MS cases among former E.B. Jones students. We found current addresses for 32% (n = 432) of former E.B. Jones students, and 20% (n = 125) of the E.B. Jones students we contacted returned questionnaires. We would like to contact many more of the former students to see if there were any cases of MS. In order to contact the students, we need help in locating current addresses or telephone numbers.
Q. Can exposure to heavy metals in the soil cause MS?
A. We do not know. There have been studies which have suggested exposure to heavy metals during childhood may increase a person's risk of developing MS later in life. However, exposure to metals is one of many theories. No one knows for sure if there is a connection between exposure to metals and MS, but we are recommending studies be done to help find out the answer to that question.
Q. Are children who currently attend Mesita or the teachers and staff who work there at risk for MS or other health problems?"
A. No. We have not found any health or safety risks for attending or working at Mesita.
Q. Should I be concerned about metals contamination in the air or soil today?
A. The air in El Paso is much cleaner today than back in the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s thanks to the work of the state and federal environmental agencies. Current air samples in El Paso show that there are no significant amounts of metals in the air we breathe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuing to take soil samples from around El Paso to test for unsafe concentrations of metals. The EPA sampling is not related to the MS study in El Paso.
Q. What will TDH do now?
A. We would like to continue the study of former Mesita and E.B. Jones students and have more people participate in the study. We need help in locating the addresses and phone numbers for all of the former students. We will send them a short questionnaire which asks about their health. All the information we collect is confidential and cannot be given out.
We are also working on a special project to develop more information about MS in Texas. Currently, no one keeps track of the number of people with MS in the state. This information is important so that when we receive calls about "too much" MS in an area, we can determine if there really is an excess of cases. We have a grant from ATSDR to track MS in 19 Texas counties. When this project is completed in two years, we can re-evaluate the information from the El Paso study and also have background information for Texas.
In addition, we are recommending that a special study be conducted which looks at the possible environmental cause or causes of MS, including exposure to metals. For a study like this to be effective, it takes a large number of participants. We are recommending that a national study be conducted and that the El Paso participants be included.
Q. What can I do?
A. If you attended either Mesita or E.B. Jones Elementary schools at anytime from 1948 through 1970, and have not already completed a questionnaire or contacted the Texas Department of Health, we would like to hear from you. If you have family or friends who attended one of the schools, we also need to hear from them. You can call or write us with their name, address, or phone number and we can contact them directly. Please contact us at the address below:
Bureau of Epidemiology
Texas Department of Health
1100 West 49th Street
Austin, Texas 78756
Toll Free Phone Number: 1-800-588-1248