Coronavirus Covid-19: what does it mean for people with multiple sclerosis?

27 February 2020

For the most up to date information, visit our page Coronavirus, Covid-19 and multiple sclerosis.

We’ve had a number of enquiries from people with MS who are concerned about Covid-19. Here are some answers to the questions people have been asking.

What is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus first identified in China. As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world. In general, they cause mild respiratory or sometimes gastric symptoms.

The symptoms of Covid-19 are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature
  • shortness of breath

These symptoms are very similar to other illness which are much more common, such as a cold or flu. If you do develop these symptoms, it's very unlikely to be Covid-19 unless you have been in close contact with someone with confirmed Covid-19 or if you have visited one of the high risk countries in the last 14 days.

What is the risk of catching Covid-19?

The UK government has said the risk to individuals remains low and is taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

If you have MS, you have the same risk of getting an infection as anyone else. People with MS are not at a greater risk, your immune system is not weakened by MS.

The exception to this is if you are taking one of the more effective disease modifying drugs, such as Gilenya, Mavenclad, Tysabri, Ocrevus or Lemtrada. One side effect of these drugs is a greater risk of infection; they work by suppressing parts of the immune system. If you are concerned, do check with your MS nurse or neurologist. You should not stop treatment or miss appointments until you have spoken to a health professional.

What can I do to avoid catching Covid-19?

The NHS recommends these simple measures to avoid catching or spreading infections

  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin immediately
  • wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

What is the risk if I do catch Covid-19?

For most people, Covid-19 is a mild infection. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms while your body fights the infection. There is no specific medication for Covid-19.

If you have MS and get an infection, be it Covid-19, flu, cold, a bladder infection, stomach upset or any other bug or virus, 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.

If your MS is more severe, you may have a higher risk of developing complications from Covid-19 or other infections. If you find it difficult to clear your lungs, there’s an increased risk of a cold or flu developing into a more serious chest infection such as pneumonia.

Find out more

On this page