MS prevalence in New Zealand, an ethnically and latitudinally diverse country

Bruce V. Taylor, John F. Pearson, Glynnis Clarke, Deborah F. Mason, David A. Abernethy, Ernie Willoughby, Clive Sabel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) is not uniform, with a latitudinal gradient of prevalence present in most studies. Understanding the drivers of this gradient may allow a better understanding of the environmental factors involved in MS pathogenesis. Method: The New Zealand national MS prevalence study (NZMSPS) is a cross-sectional study of people with definite MS (DMS) (McDonald criteria 2005) resident in New Zealand on census night, 7 March 2006, utilizing multiple sources of notification. Capture-recapture analysis (CRA) was used to estimate missing cases. Results: Of 2917 people with DMS identified, the crude prevalence was 72.4 per 100,000 population, and 73.1 per 100,000 when age-standardized to the European population. CRA estimated that 96.7% of cases were identified. A latitudinal gradient was seen with MS prevalence increasing three-fold from the North (35°S) to the South (48°S). The gradient was non-uniform; females with relapsing-remitting/ secondary-progressive (RRMS/SPMS) disease have a gradient 11 times greater than males with primary-progressive MS (p < 1 × 10-7). DMS was significantly less common among those of Maori ethnicity. Conclusions: This study confirms the presence of a robust latitudinal gradient of MS prevalence in New Zealand. This gradient is largely driven by European females with the RRMS/SPMS phenotype. These results indicate that the environmental factors that underlie the latitudinal gradient act differentially by gender, ethnicity and MS phenotype. A better understanding of these factors may allow more targeted MS therapies aimed at modifiable environmental triggers at the population level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1422-1431
Number of pages10
JournalMultiple Sclerosis
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


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