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Who gets MS?

Using data from similar countries, and some small scale New Zealand studies, we estimate that about one New Zealander in every thousand has MS. Thus, there are approximately 4000 people in New Zealand diagnosed with MS.

It is more common in:

  • Young adults - symptoms usually appear between the ages of 20 and 50 with a peak in the early 30’s. Diagnosis before 15 is not so common and onset is unusual in those over 50.
  • Women - women are affected approximately three times as often as men.
  • Caucasians - MS is more prevalent in Caucasians (people with ancestry from Northern Europe), than any other racial group. It is rarely found in Maori and Polynesian people and is uncommon in Asian people.
  • The prevalence in New Zealand is approximately 1 per 1,000 with the annual incidence being 2 to 5 per 100,000.
  • People in cooler climates - generally MS becomes more common the further away from the equator you are.  Thus the prevalence of MS is much higher in regions such as the South Island of NZ, Scotland and Canada than it is in tropical and sub-tropical areas.
  • Near relatives - those with a close relative with MS have an increased risk. Having a first-degree relative, (mother, father, sibling) with MS increases the chances of having it from approximately 1 in every 1,000 people to 30 in every 1,000. But it is important to note that the great majority of people with an affected first-degree relative do not develop MS.

MS is not contagious or infectious; it is not possible to contract it from close contact with a person with MS.