MS and coronavirus care and support
We’re working closely with our medical advisers and the Association of British Neurologists (ABN) to keep this page updated. So keep checking back for the latest information.
Follow these links for information about:
MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?
MS, social distancing and self-isolation
- I have MS, what should I do if I catch COVID-19 or someone I live with does?
- Coronavirus, MS healthcare services and hospital appointments
- Getting help with shopping and prescriptions in lockdown
- Finances and benefits in lockdown
- Working during lockdown
- MS, carers and care at home during lockdown
Having MS in itself doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19.
But some people with MS could be at greater risk of getting the virus, or of complications if they catch it. That could be because of their MS treatment or because of how MS affects them. There are also some other factors our medical advisers have identified.
We know infections (including viral infections) can increase the risk of relapses, though there’s limited evidence about COVID-19 specifically. You can read more on page 17 of our “Managing your relapses” booklet.
Research into COVID-19 risk is still in its early stages. Help us understand more about how the pandemic is affecting our community by taking the MS Register survey on coronavirus and MS. And read our blog about an early study on COVID-19 and MS in Italy.
The government define the "clinically vulnerable group" as being more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the average person, but not as much as people in the “extremely vulnerable” group. It's very similar to the group of people eligible for the free annual flu jab.
Everyone with MS is technically in the "clinically vulnerable" group. This is because MS can be associated with increased risks, depending on your symptoms, treatment or other factors. And the government's data doesn't hold that level of detail about each person.
Government advice for everyone in this group is to practice ‘stringent’ social distancing and stay in as much as they can.
Some people with MS are in the "extremely vulnerable" or "high risk" group because they:
- have significant difficulties with breathing or swallowing (for instance if you need artificial feeding)
- have taken alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) or cladribine (Mavenclad) within the last 12 weeks
- have had HSCT treatment in the last 12 months.
If you are considered extremely vulnerable, the UK governments currently recommend you self-isolate (shield) until:
- in England, the end of July
- in Northern Ireland, the end of July
- in Scotland, at least 31 July
- in Wales, at least 16 August.
This is a new virus, so it’s impossible to give a complete list of all the things that might increase risk. But here’s a general view from our medical advisers on the main risks you should think about when deciding how to protect yourself from the virus.
Your MS team will be more familiar with your personal circumstances. So if they tell you to take precautions for any other reason it's very important you follow their advice.
The main extra risk factors are if:
- you’re over 70
- you have trouble with things like preparing meals and housework because of frailty
- your frailty or MS symptoms mean you usually need an aid for walking, or you use a wheelchair (score 6.0 or higher on the Expanded Disability Status Scale)
- you have another long-term health condition besides MS, especially obesity, high blood pressure (also called hypertension), or diabetes. See a fuller list of long-term conditions that also apply on the US National Library of Medicine website
- you're pregnant
- you’ve had a course of alemtuzumab (Lemtrada) or cladribine (Mavenclad) in the last 6 months
- you’re taking fingolimod (Gilenya)
- you’ve had a course of ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) or rituximab in the last 12 months
If two or more of these describe your situation, you might want to take more stringent steps to protect yourself. This could include self-isolating (shielding) at home. At the least, we’d recommend you do even less outside your home or garden than other people. And go out as little as possible for exercise and essential shopping.
If you have any one of the risk factors, and your work means you’re more exposed to COVID-19, you should speak to your employer and consider working from home or avoiding contact with the public. For example, this might apply if you work in a hospital, a care home or a food shop.
What do the new social distancing rules mean for people with MS?
Right now everyone needs to practice social distancing. And the UK government says people with MS should be “particularly stringent” about following the guidelines. That means
- stay 2 metres (6ft) away from people outside your household (or support bubble) at all times (this 2 metre rule changed in Northern Ireland on 29 June and is set to change in England on 4 July)
- wash your hands regularly
- wash your hands as soon as you get home
- check your government’s advice and rules on face coverings
Remember you can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms.
Everyone should stay at home as much as possible.
Each UK nation has its own detailed guidance and rules. There could also be differences at a more local level when they’re needed. At the moment, the Leicester area has a local lockdown.
If there’s different advice for your city or county, your local council website should have details. Find your local council at gov.uk.
In England, the guidance says that you can
- leave the house as often as you like for socially distanced outdoor activities like exercise, sunbathing or reading in the park
- meet in groups of up to 6 people, in public spaces and gardens, as long as people from different households (or support bubbles) stay 2m apart
- drive to distant destinations (within England) like parks and beaches to enjoy the summer weather
- play non-contact outdoor sports like tennis, golf and fishing - but only with members of your own household (or support bubble).
And if you can’t work from home (for instance if you work in construction or manufacturing) you should go to work. But avoid public transport if you can and travel by car, bike or walking.
From 4 July, the guidance for England will also say
- two households (or support bubbles) can meet anywhere indoors or outdoors – this can be different households at different times, but you should always socially distance from anyone not in your household or bubble
- libraries, community centres, places of worship, outdoor playgrounds and outdoor gyms can open
- you can stay overnight away from your home with your own household or bubble, or with members of one other household (you do need to keep social distancing from them).
Everyone should still remain socially distant from people outside the household or bubble, even inside other people’s homes. We should still wash our hands frequently. And we should try to limit the number of people we see, especially over short periods of time.
- meet two other households per day (or ‘extended households’) outside (up to 8 people in total), keeping 2m apart and following good hygiene guidance - you’ll also be able to use an indoor toilet at their house, as long as you follow strict hygiene precautions
- spend time in public outdoor spaces, for example to sunbathe, picnic or sit on a bench, as long as you follow social distancing and good hygiene guidance
- exercise outdoors with certain sports, including golf, tennis and fishing – and from 29 June, outdoor playgrounds and outdoor sports courts can open
- travel for recreation and leisure, although you’re strongly encouraged to stay local (up to 5 miles) and to walk or cycle where possible - the government expects to end this 5-mile limit on 3 July
- from 3 July, stay in self-contained holiday accommodation, like holiday cottages, lodges and caravans which don’t share facilities
The First Minister has said that most outdoor work, such as construction and garden centres, can start again. Teachers can also return to schools to prepare for planned re-opening on 11 August. From 29 June, more manufacturing workplaces and shops considered ‘non-essential retail’ can re-open.
More changes are expected through July, including opening libraries, cinemas and hairdressers – with added safety measures like physical distancing and strict hygiene.
In Northern Ireland, you can
- meet indoors in groups of up to 6 people, keeping as much distance as possible between members of different households – they advise you keep visits short, wear face coverings, wash hands frequently, and keep the indoor space well ventilated
- meet outdoors in groups of up to 10 people, with social distancing and good hygiene - there’s no restriction on the distance you can travel for this, but you’re ‘urged to be sensible’ and to limit the number of journeys
- travel to take exercise, but not ‘too far’ and avoid places where there are likely to be lots of people and it’ll be hard to keep up proper social distancing
- take part in certain outdoor activities, including tennis, golf and angling, with social distancing and good hygiene.
In Wales, you can
- meet outdoors with another household, keeping 2 metres apart and good hygiene – this can be in a private garden.
- travel to meet in this way, generally no more than 5 miles from home (there is some flexibility if you’re in a rural area).
Exercise in Wales should still be done on your own or with your own household.
From 29 June in Northern Ireland and 4 July in England, whenever people need to social distance, they should stay:
- 2 metres apart
- 1 metre with extra precautions (also called '1m plus')
The extra precautions ("1m plus") help to avoid spreading the virus. What you will need to do will depend on where you are. It could mean using face coverings on public transport, which most people already have to wear in England. In work places and shops it could include installing screens and making sure people face away from each other. Keep an eye on your government's website for updates on the details.
If you live in England or Scotland and you’re the only adult in your household, you can form a ‘support bubble’ or ‘extended household’ with one other household. You can’t cross the border between England and Scotland to do this. In this support bubble, you can think of yourselves as one household.
In Northern Ireland, if you live alone, you can form a bubble (or ‘support unit’) with one other household. You don’t need to keep social distancing from people in your bubble, and the single person can visit the other home in the bubble and stay the night.
In Wales, support bubbles are not allowed at the moment.
In England and Scotland, if you’re in a support bubble or ‘extended household’:
- You can spend time together inside each other’s homes, including overnight stays
- You don’t need to keep 2 metres apart
- You should keep up good hygiene measures as you should in a household, such as hand washing and catching sneezes
- Everyone should take any extra precautions that the households usually take - for example if anyone is clinically vulnerable, or one of the bubble has a lot of contact outside the house
- If you live in England, you can travel as far as you like inside England to meet people in your support bubble - but keep local if possible.
You should only form a support bubble with one other household and you shouldn’t change your bubble once it’s formed.
If you’re shielding, the UK, Scottish, and Northern Ireland governments don’t recommend being in a support bubble at the moment. In England, from 6 July people shielding can be part of a bubble. From 6 July, people shielding in England and Northern Ireland can choose to be part of a support bubble, in the same way other people can.
If you’re considered ‘clinically vulnerable’ the UK government says you should keep taking particular care to limit contact with others and should bear this in mind when deciding about forming a bubble. Although everyone with MS is technically in the ‘clinically vulnerable’ group, the risk of individual people with MS from COVID-19 can vary widely. The Scottish government says you can join an ‘extended household’ but you should strictly follow the handwashing, surface cleaning and respiratory hygiene guidance on the NHS Inform website.
Should I wear a face mask if I go out?
Wearing a face covering is not a replacement for proper social distancing and good hygiene. But it might help protect other people if you’re infected with coronavirus – even if you don’t have symptoms. The evidence doesn’t suggest they protect the wearer from catching it from other people.
To protect resources for care professionals and other workers, you shouldn’t get a surgical face mask or respirators to use when you go out. The UK government has a guide to making face-coverings at home. The key thing is that it covers your mouth and nose.
It’s important to wash your hands before putting your covering on and taking it off. And we should all avoid touching our faces as much as possible, whether we’re wearing a face covering or not. Coverings should be washed after every use, or thrown away if they’re disposable.
Each UK government has written guidance which says face coverings could be useful if you’re in a small space and social distancing isn’t possible. For example, on public transport or in shops.
What varies is how strongly they recommend you wear one in these circumstances:
- In England, face coverings are now compulsory for most people on public transport and for people who go to a hospital. In emergencies, if you arrive at hospital without a face covering, they should provide one. Face coverings are not compulsory on public transport for certain people, including young children and people who would have difficulty using one properly. The government says that in other small spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, anyone who can wear one, should.
- In Scotland, face coverings are compulsory for most people on public transport. They are not compulsory for anyone with a condition that makes it hard to wear one, or for people with breathing difficulties. Children under 5 are also exempt. Face coverings are also strongly recommended in enclosed public spaces (like shops, for example).
- The Northern Ireland government website recommends people consider using face coverings. They specifically advise people to use them if they meet people indoors.
- The Welsh government website recommends that people in Wales wear three-layer face coverings wherever social distancing isn’t possible. Following the World Health Organisation’s advice on masks, the recommended three layers are an inner layer of absorbent material such as cotton, a middle layer of non-woven material such as polypropylene, and an outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or polyester blend.
Not everyone can wear a face covering, including anyone who might find it hard to manage one correctly, and young children.
Read the full UK government guidance on face coverings, the UK government guidance on face coverings on public transport
and the UK government press release about hospital face coverings
- Read the full Scottish government guidance on face coverings
- Read the full Northern Ireland guidance on face coverings
- Read the full Welsh government guidance on face coverings
Do people with MS need to self-isolate or shield?
Self-isolating means you stay at home completely, avoiding going out if at all possible.
Wherever you are in the UK, you should self-isolate if you
- have symptoms of COVID-19
- live with someone with symptoms
- are at higher risk if you get infected (also called the “extremely vulnerable” group) - this is called 'shielding'
- have had a shielding letter from a health professional
3. What should I do if I have MS and get COVID-19 or someone I live with does?
People with MS who have symptoms of COVID-19
You should self-isolate for 7 days if you have either of these COVID-19 symptoms
- a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- a new, continuous cough – this means you've started coughing repeatedly
- you lose your normal sense of smell or taste, or notice it changes (the medical term for this is anosmia)
If you are taking a DMT, you should be able to continue taking it if your symptoms are mild.
Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital in person. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home.
Anyone with symptoms should ask for a test to check if it is COVID-19. The sooner you can get tested, the more it can help control the spread of the virus.
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, if your test is positive, the NHS (or Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland) will get in touch with you. You’ll need to tell them about people you’ve been in direct contact with, and those people might then be told to self-isolate and where they can get support if they need it.
In Wales, this kind of widespread ‘contact tracing’ is expected to begin from 1 June.
Book a COVID-19 test online in England and Wales or call 119. If you’re in Wales, you can only order home testing kits online at the moment, unless you’re a critical worker. Critical workers in Wales can book with drive-through and mobile testing centres directly.
Book a COVID-19 test online in Northern Ireland or call 0300 303 2713
Even if you’re booking a test by phone, you’ll need access to an email address to get the results, except in Scotland where you can leave a mobile number instead. If you haven’t got an email address, you could ask a friend or relative to use theirs.
People with MS who live with someone who has symptoms of COVID-19
If anyone else in your home has symptoms, the UK government advises where possible people with MS should temporarily move to another location rather than continuing to live with a person who is showing symptoms. Ideally, you should live elsewhere for 14 days before returning home.
If it’s not possible for you to move to another location, you should follow advice around household isolation. That means you and everyone in your household (or support bubble) should stay home for 14 days. Try to stay away from the people with symptoms and take the government advice about hygiene.
Will my MS health care team still be available?
We know some MS specialist staff have been asked to help with the increasing cases of COVID-19.
Because of this, some MS teams have moved to a "minimum safe service". This means it might be more difficult to get appointments for routine things like annual reviews or blood tests to monitor your DMT. You might be offered an appointment by phone or video call.
You can help by checking our website or contacting our MS Helpline for answers before contacting your team. But you should still contact your team if:
- you have signs of a relapse
- you go to hospital for any reason (even if you’re not admitted)
- you’re considering any changes to how you take your DMT.
Should I go to my scheduled hospital appointment?
You should check your hospital’s website before attending. In many cases it might be possible to replace a face-to-face meeting with a telephone appointment and in other cases routine appointments may be postponed.
If clinics or appointments do change, you should be informed. But it’s worth double-checking the hospital website for any general information before you go. If there’s no relevant information, assume your appointment or clinic will go ahead as usual.
Our medical advisers stress the importance of attending appointments with healthcare professionals, or seeking help if you feel seriously unwell. The consequences of not getting regular or emergency healthcare can be very serious for people with MS.
Speak to your MS team before making any changes to the way you take your treatments.
Social care services and the Coronavirus ActThe Coronavirus Act and Coronavirus (Scotland) Act could also affect your social care services if you live in England, Wales or Scotland.
DMT homecare delivery serviceIf you have homecare services to deliver your DMT, generally these should carry on without a problem. If they are delayed or you have any difficulties contact your MS team immediately.
The NHS has contacted me about signing a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) document. What does it mean?
Some people with long term health conditions have had letters or calls from their doctors about the care they might get if they were critically ill with coronavirus. This can obviously be a distressing topic. And it's important to remember having MS in itself does not mean you’ll be denied critical care.
5. Getting help with shopping and prescriptions in lockdown
If you’re worried you can't get the help you need with shopping and collecting prescriptions, you’re not alone.
6. Finances and benefits in lockdown
Some benefits and other financial help have changed to help you manage the effects of coronavirus. This includes Carer's Allowance, statutory sick pay and some assessments for PIP.
As part of lockdown easing, government guidance in England around who should go to work has changed. We look at what that means for people with MS and the people who care for them, wherever you live in the UK.
8. MS, carers and care at home during lockdown
We know it’s important that family and friends who care for people with MS can stay well themselves, and get the support they need to provide that vital care.
If you get support from care workers you might also have specific questions about coronavirus and the care they provide.
You’re not alone we can help
Talk to someone on the phone
We're here for you. If you’re worried about your MS and coronavirus and want to chat to someone, call our MS Helpline on 0808 800 8000. We’re here Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm except bank holidays.
You can also sign up to our new Keep in Touch service, for a weekly catch up with one of our friendly volunteers.
If you'd like to talk your worries through online with other people who know MS, visit our Online Community Forum today.
Or join one of our Time to Chat or Virtual Wellbeing sessions and connect online with other people living with MS across the UK.
Ask an MS health expert
Or you could sign up for an information webinar. We've got plenty to choose from, take a look at our online sessions and see what suits you.
We updated this page on Thursday 25 June 2020
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