SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Central New York has the highest population of patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the nation. Doctors have been speculating why for years, and it may be getting worse.

A neurologist at St. Joseph’s Health is concerned about the trend he’s seen throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Fahed Saada recently treated a 24-year-old man. His brain and spine were riddled with lesions. He’s in the early stages of MS and joins a growing list of Saada’s patients, adding to a trend no neurologist wants to see.

“I’ve never seen so many acute Multiple Sclerosis cases over the years compared to this past year and I don’t know why.”

Dr. Fahed Saada

Saada says other viruses can increase our risk, but it will be years before we learn COVID-19’s contributions, if any. In the meantime, more people are getting sick.

Early treatment can give patients some improvement, but over time, MS progresses.

The disease disrupts the brain’s ability to send messages to the rest of the body. There’s no cure, and eventually, it causes permanent damage to the nerves.

These lesions, if they’re not treated appropriately and quickly, they become what we call black holes in the brain.

Dr. Fahed Saada

It’s hard to stop an uptick in cases when doctors don’t know what’s causing it.

However, neurologists do know that places north of the equator are at a higher risk because patients with MS have low vitamin D levels.

Doctors also know we here in Central New York don’t get a lot of sunlight in the winter.

For now, though, Saada says it’s a medical mystery doctors desperately want to solve.

Saada says a vitamin D supplement may help boost your prevention, but you should always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication and supplements.