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Research into MS, COVID-19 and DMTs

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our lives this year. And we know many people living with MS have the added stress of worrying whether it’s safe to continue taking their MS treatment.

Because COVID-19 is a new virus, we don’t yet fully understand how it affects people with MS. But researchers have been working hard to gather information to help people with MS and their neurologists make informed decisions about the risks of COVID-19 and MS treatments. And the research published so far suggests having MS in itself doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19.

DMT and COVID-19 research from China

Researchers in China looked at the risk of COVID-19 in people with MS, and whether disease-modifying treatments (DMTs) increased a person’s risk of getting COVID-19. Information about people with MS was collected from 10 MS centres in 8 cities across China, including Wuhan.

882 of the 1,804 (48.89%) people with MS who were included in the survey were receiving DMTs. Researchers observed that people with MS did not have an increased risk of COVID-19 infection, regardless of whether they were on a DMT or not. You can read the full paper on the Neurology website.

MS and COVID-19 in France

In another study of 347 people, researchers in France found that people with more severe MS (measured using the Expanded Disability Status Scale) were more likely to get more serious forms of COVID-19. Older people and those who were obese were also more likely to get more serious forms of COVID-19. But people on DMTs were not more likely to get more severe COVID-19 symptoms. You can read the full French research paper on the JAMA network website.

Early Italian research

In May, we published a news story about research carried out in Italy. Researchers reported that 96% of people with MS with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 had mild symptoms. Most of these people were taking DMTs.

These early results suggest that people with MS are not at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 or having more severe symptoms. You can read the Italian research paper on the Lancet Neurology website.

What does this research mean for people with MS?

This early research from France and China indicates that people with MS are not necessarily at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 or developing more severe symptoms, regardless of whether they're taking DMTs. Researchers will continue to monitor this as lockdown eases.

However, we know that the risks associated with COVID-19 and DMTs can differ depending on the type of treatment a person is taking. And there are specific cases where taking a DMT is likely to increase your risk.

Our medical advisors advise that people with MS should take particular caution for at least 12 weeks after courses of alemtuzumab and cladribine, as we know that these drugs can temporarily impact the immune system significantly.

However, where the relevant national government (in England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland) has decided that the risk from COVID-19 is low enough to recommend that those shielding can go outside and resume social contact, then we would generally agree that a person with MS can do so.

A global MS research effort to understand COVID-19

There are still a lot of things we don’t know about how COVID-19 impacts people with MS. Which is why many MS organisations across the world are also gathering data on how people with MS are affected by the outbreak.

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) is backing a global data sharing initiative to bring this information together. Together we can build a better picture of how the pandemic is affecting the MS community around the world.

We’re supporting researchers in the UK to do just this. The UK MS Register is running a survey looking at how COVID-19 is affecting people with MS. Your answers help us give the most up-to-date advice on shielding and DMTs. And keep making the case with the government and NHS for the care and support our community needs.

Take the survey on the MS Register website