The coronavirus pandemic has generated an enormous amount of research, with over 40,000 papers published in the first six months of 2020. We’ve been sifting through the research up to the end of June to bring you a round-up of the studies that give an idea of what coronavirus means for people with MS. This is a rapidly evolving topic and we’ll update you with any further news in future issues of Research Update.
Most of the studies so far have reported data on single cases or on small numbers of people. They do give a general indication but we need to interpret them with caution. Around the world, registries have been set up to capture information supplied by neurologists and people with MS. Analysis of data from larger numbers of people will give us a better picture of how people with MS are affected by coronavirus and Covid-19. The UK MS Register has launched a survey to look at how people are coping with guidance from the government as well as to capture data on confirmed or unconfirmed cases of Covid-19 in people with MS. Whether you have had symptoms of Covid-19 or not, you can contribute your experiences by signing up for the survey.
Does MS affect the severity of Covid-19?
Italy was the first European country to see a rapid rise in the number of people with Covid-19. Italian researchers set up an online registry to record and collect data about people with MS who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or have developed symptoms (suspected Covid-19). MS neurologists across Italy were asked to input data and share patient outcomes.
Their preliminary data included 232 people with MS who tested positive for Covid-19 (57 people) or had suspected Covid-19 (175 people). 211 were taking a disease modifying drug (DMD).
The data recorded the severity of Covid-19 in these people:
- 222 (96%) had a mild infection
- 4 (2%) had a severe infection
- 6 (3%) had a critical infection
Of those who were critical, one person recovered and five people died. The people who died tended to be older (50+) and have other health conditions.
A French registry has also published data on people with MS with confirmed or highly suspected Covid-19. Of the 347 people in the study, 73 (21%) needed hospital care and there were 12 deaths (3.5%). Age, disability and obesity were most strongly linked to a more severe course of Covid-19.
Although the numbers reported are fairly small, they suggest that having MS doesn’t increase your likelihood of a more severe Covid-19 infection and that the majority of people with MS who do develop Covid-19 are likely to have a mild infection, the same as the general population.
Data gathered from the wider population has identified other factors which can increase the risk of having a more severe course of Covid-19, such as an older age and having underlying health conditions, particularly those affecting the heart or lungs. If you are more severely affected by MS, for example if you have difficulty with swallowing, clearing your lungs or are prone to chest infections, you will also be at greater risk of developing complications from Covid-19.
Find out more about coronavirus, Covid-19 and multiple sclerosis
As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world. In general, they cause mild respiratory or sometimes gastric symptoms. The new strain of coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2. In this article, we use coronavirus to describe the virus and Covid-19 for the disease it causes.
The main symptoms of Covid-19 are:
- a new, continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly
- a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest and/or back
- shortness of breath
- a loss or a change to your sense of taste or smell
If you have any of the main symptoms, you should stay at home (self-isolate) and get tested for coronavirus as soon as possible.
For more information, visit mstrust.org.uk/coronavirus.
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