Last updated: 7 April 2022
This page gives the latest guidance on coronavirus and Covid-19 for people affected by multiple sclerosis.
We will update this page as new information becomes available or advice changes.
See all updates
10 November 2021
Updated to reflect changes to self-isolation rules for vaccinated close contacts, to include information on the difference between, and eligibility for, third doses and booster jabs, updated guidance from the ABN around Covid-19 and DMDs, and the approval of an anti-viral medication for the elderly and immunosuppressed which may be taken at home.
21 December 2021
Updated to divide page in two, separating information on Covid-19 vaccines and boosters into a new page.
24 February 2022
Updated to include new covid treatments and to amend information on self-isolation.
7 April 2022
Updated to include a new section on access to Covid-19 treatments and free testing. Removed out-of-date sections. Checked and updated all links to the latest government guidance across all nations. Updated the DMD section to ensure it reflects latest ABN guidance.
|10 November 2021||Updated to reflect changes to self-isolation rules for vaccinated close contacts, to include information on the difference between, and eligibility for, third doses and booster jabs, updated guidance from the ABN around Covid-19 and DMDs, and the approval of an anti-viral medication for the elderly and immunosuppressed which may be taken at home.|
|21 December 2021||Updated to divide page in two, separating information on Covid-19 vaccines and boosters into a new page.|
|24 February 2022||Updated to include new covid treatments and to amend information on self-isolation.|
|7 April 2022||Updated to include a new section on access to Covid-19 treatments and free testing. Removed out-of-date sections. Checked and updated all links to the latest government guidance across all nations. Updated the DMD section to ensure it reflects latest ABN guidance.|
What's the risk of someone with MS catching Covid-19?
If you have MS, you have the same risk of developing Covid-19 as anyone else. People with MS are not at a greater risk than the general public of becoming infected with the coronavirus; your immune system is not weakened by MS.
An exception to this is if you're taking certain disease modifying drugs. Some of these drugs suppress parts of your immune system leaving you at a greater risk of infection. For more details about each of the individual disease modifying drugs see the section on disease modifying drugs. If you're concerned, do check with your MS nurse or neurologist. You shouldn't stop any treatment or miss appointments until you've spoken to a health professional.
Am I more at risk if I catch Covid-19?
For most people, including those with MS, Covid-19 is a mild infection. This is supported by preliminary research from Italy which found that people with MS who contracted Covid-19 did no worse than the general population. A study looking at how well people with MS recover from Covid-19 has also provided reassuring results.
For those with a mild infection, treatment will typically be at home and include rest, plenty of fluids and paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any temperature. You may be eligible for antibody or antiviral treatments if you catch Covid-19.
More severe infections may require treatment at home or in hospital, which could include antiviral or antibody treatments, support to help you breath, or medicine to reduce inflammation caused by the virus. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms and reduce the effects of the virus while your body fights the infection.
If you have MS and get Covid-19, the way your body deals with the infection (for example a fever) can cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. Once you’ve recovered from the infection, your MS symptoms will settle down. A more severe infection could potentially trigger a relapse.
People with MS at higher risk
Some people with MS may be at higher risk of more serious illness with Covid-19.
If you're more severely affected by MS, for example you have difficulty with swallowing, clearing your lungs or are prone to chest infections; or if you have other health conditions, including those affecting the heart or lungs – such as high blood pressure or asthma; you might be at greater risk of complications if you develop Covid-19.
Similarly, if you’re on a disease modifying drug that significantly suppresses your immune system, or you’ve recently been treated with steroids, you may be considered higher risk too.
Current evidence suggests that other factors that may increase your risk of serious illness from Covid-19 are: higher disability levels (EDSS greater than 6.0); progressive disease with longer disease duration; older age (above 65); obesity; black, Asian and minority ethnicity (BAME); and if you have other health conditions, particularly diabetes and cardiorespiratory disease.
More information on higher risk groups (previously known as clinically extremely vulnerable) can be found here:
What should I do if I catch Covid-19?
If you catch Covid-19, you may be eligible for a treatment to manage your symptoms and reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill. These are known as antiviral and antibody treatments.
People with MS who are at higher risk of serious illness with Covid-19, despite being vaccinated, are eligible for these treatments. Although not specifically addressed in the current government guidance, we understand this may include:
- people who are on a disease modifying drug that suppresses the immune system, significantly increases your risk of infection and limits your response to Covid-19 vaccines
- people who are taking steroids or have recently finished a course of steroids
- people with more advanced MS who experience breathing and/or swallowing difficulties.
This is the same group of people that were eligible for a third primary dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and are eligible for a spring booster.
You should have been contacted by the NHS if you’re eligible for the Covid-19 treatments. If you haven’t been contacted, and you think you should have been, it is best to contact your MS team for advice. Your neurologist should be able to confirm if you’re eligible for the treatments and can make sure this is flagged up on your medical records.
About the treatments
There are a range of Covid-19 treatments currently available. Most are antiviral treatments, and one is an antibody treatment.
The antiviral treatments stop the virus multiplying in cells and this stops the virus multiplying in your body. This can help your body overcome the virus infection and may help you get better faster. The antiviral treatments available are:
- Paxloid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) – taken as tablets at home
- Veklury (remdesivir) – given as an infusion in hospital
- Lagevrio (molnupiravir) – taken as tablets at home.
The antibody treatment is known as a neutralising monoclonal antibody (nMAb). nMAbs are manmade (synthetic) proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system. They stick to the virus (specifically the spike protein of the virus) and stop it from getting into your lungs and causing an infection.
The antibody treatment is:
- Xevudy (sotrovimab) – given as an infusion in hospital.
How to get treatment
Covid-19 treatments need to be given early in order to be effective. You should keep either a rapid lateral flow or PCR testing kit at home so you can quickly do a test if you develop symptoms.
If you test positive for Covid-19 – either through a PCR or lateral flow test – you should report your result and an NHS Covid Medicines Delivery Unit (CMDU) will usually contact you within 24 hours, either by text, email or phone. They will assess which treatment is suitable for you and either send you a medicine you can take as a tablet at home or arrange for you to visit a hospital for a treatment that is given by infusion.
If you’re not contacted within 24 hours of your positive test, you should contact your GP, 111 or your MS team. They’ll be able to make an urgent referral for you.
Access to free Covid-19 tests in England and Wales
In England and Wales from 1 April, people with MS who are eligible for Covid-19 treatments will continue to have access to free lateral flow tests.
If you live in England, the NHS will contact you directly and send you lateral flow tests to keep at home. If you’ve not received any tests in the post by 11 April, they can be ordered for free from the government website or by calling 119. If you haven’t received any tests, it may be because it’s not flagged up on your medical records that you’re eligible for the Covid-19 treatments. You may therefore want to contact your MS team to check you’re eligible and have your medical records updated.
PCR tests were sent out earlier in the year when the Covid-19 treatments first became available. These are no longer being sent out and should not be used (unless specifically asked to by a health professional).
It’s important that you use lateral flow tests supplied by the government. Tests bought privately (eg, from a pharmacy) can’t be registered on GOV.UK so you’ll not be contacted about Covid-19 treatments if you test positive using one of these.
If you live in Wales, you can order free lateral flow tests from the government website or by calling 119.
Access to free Covid-19 tests in Scotland and Northern Ireland
Scotland and Northern Ireland are not currently sending out test kits to keep at home. Instead, if you do develop Covid-19 symptoms, you can go on the government website or call 119 to order a PCR test to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a test centre.
In Scotland from 18 April, lateral flow tests will no longer be available for the general public to order and will only be free for some healthcare purposes. From 30 April, PCR testing centres will also close. Guidance on access to tests in Scotland after these dates is due to be updated.
In Northern Ireland from 22 April, free testing will be limited. However lateral flow and PCR tests will continue to be available for people who are eligible for Covid-19 treatments. More information on testing in Northern Ireland
If you notice Covid-19 symptoms before you get your testing kit, you can call 111 to get a rapid referral. It is best to start the treatment as soon as possible after you test positive.
What measures should I be taking to protect myself?
With the Covid-19 vaccine and booster programmes reaching much of the population, and protecting those most vulnerable, legal restrictions have been lifted across the UK. Generally, people with MS are now advised to follow the same guidance as the general population.
However, as someone with MS, you may feel worried about the easing of restrictions and have questions about what you can do to protect yourself. While cases in the community remain high, you may want to take extra precautions to keep yourself safe. You may wish to:
- make sure you’ve had all the vaccines and boosters you’re eligible to receive
- avoid meeting people who have symptoms of Covid-19 or are feeling unwell
- avoid anyone who has tested positive for at least 10 days after they received their positive test
- meet people outdoors where possible or keep fresh air circulating if meeting indoors
- ask visitors to your home to take precautionary measures, such as keeping their distance, wearing a face mask and doing a lateral flow test before they arrive
- speak to your employer about the steps they’re taking to reduce the spread of the virus and help keep you safe as workplaces gradually reopen
- ask your employer if it’s possible for you to work from home or if there’s anything else they can do to reduce your risk in the workplace
- wear a face covering in crowded public places
- continue social distancing when out and about
- keep up with personal hygiene, eg regular handwashing
- do lateral flow tests regularly and encourage family and friends to test before you meet up.
NHS Volunteer Responders are still available to support people in England who are self-isolating for any reason or are cautious about going out because of coronavirus. They can help with things like collecting shopping, medication, or other essential supplies, and with transport to medical appointments. They can also provide a regular, friendly phone call. They can be contacted on 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week).
In Scotland, the National Assistance helpline is available to support vulnerable people who don't have family to support them and aren't in touch with any support groups in their local community. If you live in Scotland and need help with food shopping, picking up a prescription, emotional support or finding local volunteer groups, call 0800 111 4000 (9am to 5pm).
If you are feeling particularly anxious over the lifting of restrictions, the Every Mind Matters website has some useful information about looking after your mental wellbeing following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Covid-19 and steroids for MS relapses
Steroids are not recommended if you have a viral infection as they suppress the immune system which reduces your ability to resist the infection.
If you receive treatment with high-dose steroids, you’re most vulnerable to infection for at least two weeks after the treatment. You may therefore wish to take extra precautions to prevent infection during this time.
You may want to discuss this further with your MS team or GP if you are prescribed steroids while there is significant risk of coronavirus infection.
Medical guidance suggests that it is best to leave two weeks after a vaccination before having steroids, as the steroids may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccination. However, if you have a relapse less than two weeks after your vaccine, you and your MS team may agree that the benefits of taking steroids outweigh the risks.
Covid-19 and your physical and mental wellbeing
It is understandable that many of us are worried by the impact that coronavirus is having on the lives of ourselves and our families. Being asked to stay at home and avoid other people has made it feel more difficult than usual to take care of mental health and wellbeing.
Helena from the MS Trust's Information Team takes a look at ways to look after your own mental wellbeing during these strange and scary times.
Our MS Trust Facebook group has over 11,000 members, and is a great space for people with MS to share experiences, ask questions and chat with others who know what you're going through.
Mind has some great suggestions of ways to help us all cope. These include ways to connect with other people, through phone calls or social media; planing how you are going to spend your time; finding ways to relax and be creative; ways to keep your mind stimulated.
NHS advice on mental wellbeing:
Of course, it's also important to remain as active as possible, so do check out our stick man exercise routines, our Move it for MS exercise videos with Mr Motivator or our neuro-Pilates routines. None of these exercises require special equipment and can easily be done in your living room or back garden!
Local support groups
Around the country, volunteers have formed local groups to support the most vulnerable in their community. Help could involve activities from running errands to the shops, to making phone calls, to providing a friendly voice of reassurance. Covid-19 Mutual Aid has a list of local groups.
Help and support if you’re affected by Covid-19
There are various sources of support available if you need financial help, or support getting food and other essential supplies, perhaps because you have Covid-19 yourself or you’re trying to avoid busy public places.
For further information on the support available, visit the government websites:
Find out more
The NHS website has further advice on COVID-19, which covers the risk of catching it, simple ways to avoid catching or spreading it, and what to do if you are worried you might have caught it.
Your COVID Recovery is an NHS website with information and practical suggestions on recovering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.
Government guidance for reducing the spread of Covid-19 in the workplace.
Government guidance for people who are at higher risk of serious illness.
Foreign Office advice on travelling abroad during coronavirus.
Association of British Neurologists guidance on disease modifying drugs.
How to stay calm and carry on during the coronavirus crisis when you have MS – a blog by Helena from the MS Trust.
Coronavirus and MS podcast – from the MS Trust.
The Neurology Academy has been running a series of webinars since late March 2020 examining the impact of Covid-19 on people with MS and discussing how care and management of people with MS needs to change at this time. You can view the webinars by clicking on this link (opens in an external window). You can view all the webinars which have run to date and also register for upcoming webinars which are listed on the same page.
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