Patient Information: What To Know About PML

Patients with compromised immune systems should be aware of the possibility of getting progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), an often fatal infection of the brain. The disease is caused by a virus that exists in at least 80 percent of the adult population, but remains latent in healthy persons until their immune systems are compromised.

The virus is called the JC virus, named for John Cunningham from whom it was first isolated. It attacks the myelin protective coating of nerve fibers in the brain. It may begin slowly, but inexorably progresses as more of the myelin is destroyed. When the myelin is damaged, the nerve cells can no longer relay the electric impulses that control the rest of the body.

The majority of the virus' victims are HIV or AIDS patients. But the virus also is known to attack other patients with compromised immune systems, in particular persons on immunosuppressive drugs.

These drugs are prescribed to treat multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, and some medications to suppress the immune systems of organ transplant patients. The drugs include Tysabri®, Rituxan™, Raptiva®, CellCept® and Myfortic®.

Signs and Symptoms of PML

The symptoms of PML may begin slowly, such as the weakening of the arms and legs, often on one side of the body. As more of the myelin coating of the nerve fibers in the brain is destroyed, more symptoms become evident. These symptoms may include:

  • Vision difficulties
  • Problems with balance
  • Problems with speech and language
  • Problems understanding someone else who is speaking
  • Clumsiness
  • Trouble walking
  • Mental problems
  • Personality changes

Diagnosis and Treatment

In order to diagnose PML, the doctor considers the clinical symptoms, tests the cerebrospinal fluid for the presence of the JC virus, and orders an MRI (magnetic resonance image).

At present, the best treatment for PML is to withdraw the immunosuppressive drugs. For persons with HIV-related PML, treatment with anti-retroviral medication is the best option.

PML Prognosis

For HIV-related PML, the prognosis is best when anti-retroviral therapy is begun. Death in these patients has decreased dramatically from 90 to 50 percent. For patients whose PML is not related to HIV, however, the prognosis remains bleak. Most people are sick for a number of months, and by six months, often have died. Those who survive usually have serious neurological disabilities.

Help for PML Patients

Our PML lawyers realize the devastation caused by the awful disease. We would like to help you and your family seek compensation if you've suffered as a result of PML. To find out how we can help you, please contact us today. We provide free case reviews that are of no obligation to you or your loved one. Call today to schedule your consultation.

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