— UPDATED FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2020 —
If you’re living with multiple sclerosis, COVID-19 and any other rapidly-spreading illness is a reason to be cautious, and to follow guidelines and instructions from medical professionals. Because COVID-19 has a greater propensity to lead to severe respiratory disease than most of the seasonal infections we see, and because some MS patients may be at higher risk of more severe symptoms with COVID-19, you should consider how to decrease your risk of exposure.
Your first source of information should always be your federal, state and local health departments. CLICK HERE for general information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including guidelines you should follow to protect yourself and others.
Specifically for MS patients, we’ve put together the following information:
Am I at Higher Risk Due to my MS?
MS itself doesn’t put you at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. However, if you commonly experience certain MS symptoms, they could be exacerbated by any respiratory illness, including COVID-19. Symptoms like this could include difficulty breathing or other respiratory issues, fatigue, pain and more. COVID-19 is likely to produce a fever, which could worsen MS symptoms as well. Patients with significant neurologic disability may also be at higher risk of having more severe symptoms with 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 or vaccination 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 (for example if you are wheelchair-bound or bed-bound), 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.
What if I’m on a Disease Modifying Therapy for MS?
Certain DMTs commonly prescribed for MS work by suppressing parts of a patient’s immune system. This could make you more susceptible to any infection, including COVID-19. It is important to talk with your MS specialist about concerns with your DMT or timing of your treatments prior to making any changes to your treatment plan.
When Should I Call my MS Specialist or Neurologist?
If you’re experiencing symptoms you think could be COVID-19, or you know you’ve been in contact with someone who’s been diagnosed, your first call should be to your general practitioner (GP) or family doctor. If your illness is worsening or your symptoms become severe, seek medical attention. If possible, call the medical facility beforehand to alert them that you’re on your way, and suspect COVID-19. And as always, if you find yourself in a medical emergency, call 911, and notify dispatch personnel that you have, or are being evaluated for, COVID-19.
Unless you have a specific concern that relates to your MS diagnosis or treatment, contacting your MS specialist may not be necessary at all. If you have in-person visits scheduled with your neurologist in the RMMSC, you can call the RMMSC @ CU at (720) 848-2080 and change it to a telemedicine visit.
The following information comes from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can read more about the coronavirus at the CDC’s Website.
What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 14 days after your exposure to COVID-19. Most people who contract COVID-19 will experience only mild symptoms.
What are severe complications from this virus?
Some patients have pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and in some cases death.
Can people in the US get COVID-19?
Yes. COVID-19 is spreading from person to person in parts of the United States. Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are close contacts of someone known to have COVID-19, for example healthcare workers, or household members. Other people at higher risk for infection are those who live in or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Learn more about places with ongoing spread at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html#geographic
How can I help protect myself and others?
People can help protect themselves from respiratory illness with everyday preventive actions.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your inner elbow shirtsleeve.
- Get your flu shot and stay up-to-date on other routine immunizations.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as desks, doorknobs, handrails, etc.
- Consider limiting your exposure to infection by avoiding large crowds and those who are sick with any of the known COVID-19 symptoms.
- Avoid travel to known high risk countries (and see below about self-quarantine after some travel).
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is providing a phone line to answer questions from the public about COVID-19. Call CO-Help at 303.389.1687 or 1.877.462.2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish (Español), Mandarin (普通话) and more.
What should I do if I recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19?
If you have traveled from an affected area, there may be restrictions on your movements for up to 2 weeks. If you develop symptoms during that period (fever, cough, trouble breathing), seek medical advice. Call the office of your health care provider before you go, and tell them about your travel and your symptoms. They will give you instructions on how to get care without exposing other people to your illness. While sick, avoid contact with people, don’t go out and delay any travel to reduce the possibility of spreading illness to others.
Is there a vaccine?
There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands often.
Is there a treatment?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.