We are closely watching the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and taking action as we all move through this uncharted territory. The most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about in-person gatherings has a significant impact on all we had planned for the next couple months—from fundraising events to programs to advocacy activities. But this will not stop us from being here for people with MS and fueling breakthroughs. We are finding new and creative ways to make sure everyone involved in the MS movement has a way to connect, to feel supported and informed and to raise funds and awareness—no matter where you are. Stay tuned for information about exciting virtual opportunities.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 illness is a new coronavirus (a type of virus that causes respiratory infections) that was first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Since then, there has been worldwide spread of COVID -19 to nearly every continent. Initially spread appeared to be from those who had traveled from Wuhan, China to other parts of the world. However, at this time it is known that COVID-19 is affecting individuals who have not traveled or have had any contact with travelers. This is considered "community spread."
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Most people who contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms, but some people will have more severe symptoms. Most commonly seen symptoms include:
- Dry Cough
- Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
Other symptoms that are also seen include:
- Productive cough
- Body aches
- Sore throat
Unique symptoms recently identified are the loss of the sense of smell and/or taste. Not everyone will have these symptoms, but in some who do, these symptoms may precede other symptoms such as fever and cough.
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your primary care provider.
How does COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 can be spread from person to person; particularly if there is close contact (within 6 feet) with someone who is infected. Spread is more likely when groups of people congregate together. This spread occurs from respiratory droplets produced when the infected person coughs or sneezes directly on another person. COVID-19 can also spread when droplets (from coughs, sneezes or contaminated hands), land on surfaces and another person touches the contaminated surface with their hands and then touches their nose, mouth or possibly eyes with their hands. According to a recent study, COVID-19 can live up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, four hours on copper and in the air for about three hours.
Are people with MS considered a "higher – risk" group?
MS itself does not increase the risk of getting COVID-19, however, certain factors associated with your MS may increase your risk for complications:
- Chronic medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or cancer
- Significantly restricted mobility, such as needing to spend most of your day seated or in bed
- Age 60 or older
- Possibly taking certain disease modifying therapies that deplete immune system cells
Sometimes, the body’s response to infections, including COVID-19, may cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. For example, you may have more trouble with fatigue, thinking, mobility, vision or other symptoms. Typically, these symptoms settle down once the infection clears up. If you are experiencing new MS symptoms or have any concerns about any of your MS symptoms please contact your MS healthcare provider.
How can I help protect myself and others?
There are actions you can take to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Practice 'social distancing'. Based upon recommendations from President Trump, social distancing means avoiding gatherings (greater than 10 people) and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible.
- Stay home and contact your primary care provider if you develop symptoms of COVID-19, have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19.
Is it ok for my family members or other close contacts to go to work or other types of social gatherings?
Care partners and family members who live with, or regularly visit, a person with MS should also follow the same recommendations to reduce the chance of bringing COVID-19 infection into the home.
What should I do about my MS disease modifying therapies (DMT) because of COVID-19?
There are recommendations about DMTs and COVID-19 coming from multiple individuals, groups and organizations. While each has attempted to provide clarity and sound guidance, differences in the recommendations have created a significant amount of confusion. Decisions regarding disease modifying therapies (DMTs) are made based upon multiple factors, including:
- Your MS disease course
- Other medical conditions you may have
- Allergies to DMTs
- Other medications that are not compatible with certain DMTs
- Risks (including infections) vs. benefit of DMT
- Your values and risk tolerance
The National MS Society, based upon advice from our National Medical Advisory Committee, has developed guidance on the use of DMTs during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we endorse the global advice provided by the MS International Federation (MSIF) – but emphasize that DMT decision making must be individualized and based upon multiple factors, including those listed above.
Both the National MS Society DMT guidance and the MSIF global advice are endorsed by the Consortium of MS Centers and the MS Coalition.
Can my healthcare provider prescribe chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate if I get COVID-19?
Chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate are not approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19. The FDA has approved a request for Emergency Use Authorization for use of chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate to treat COVID-19 in adults and adolescents when administered by a healthcare provider with a valid prescription from a licensed practitioner. These medications are not preventative medications and are not to be prescribed or used to prevent COVID-19.
The FDA issued a letter to stakeholders about the imminent threat to the health of consumers who may take chloroquine phosphate products used to treat disease in aquarium fish, thinking the products are interchangeable with FDA-approved drugs (used to treat malaria and certain other conditions in humans) that are being studied as a COVID-19 treatment for humans. Chloroquine products sold for aquarium use have not been evaluated by the FDA to determine whether they are safe, effective, properly manufactured, and adequately labeled for use in fish--let alone humans.
Is it safe for someone with MS who has COVID-19 to take chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate?
There are no extensive studies on the safety and efficacy of chloroquine phosphate or hydroxychloroquine sulfate to treat COVID-19 and the information on safety and efficacy for those with MS and COVID-19 is even more limited. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you, your MS healthcare provider and the healthcare provider treating you for COVID-19 will consider your specific risks and the potential benefits of this treatment and make a treatment decision.
Can I buy a COVID-19 test, vaccine or treatment online?
No. The FDA issued a warning to consumers to beware of fraudulent coronavirus tests, vaccines and treatments. There are no tests or medications for COVID-19 that can be purchased online. There is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet. These fraudulent products that claim to cure, treat, or prevent COVID-19 haven’t been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and might be dangerous to you and your family. If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms contact your primary care provider.
Is blood (plasma) from people who have recovered from COVID-19 being used to treat the virus?
One investigational treatment being explored for COVID-19 involves the use of convalescent plasma collected from recovered COVID-19 patients. It is possible that convalescent plasma that contains antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) might be effective against the infection. Although participation in clinical trials is one way for patients to obtain access to convalescent plasma, these may not be readily available to all patients in potential need. Therefore, given the public health emergency that the expanding COVID-19 outbreak presents, while clinical trials are being conducted, FDA is facilitating access to COVID-19 convalescent plasma for use in patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections. This allows the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of an individual patient by a licensed physician upon FDA authorization. This does not include the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma for the prevention of infection.
Is there special advice for children with MS?
Is there specific advice for women with MS who are pregnant?
If I have COVID-19 should I avoid ibuprofen?
Following news reports and a letter in a medical journal suggesting a connection between nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, and worsening COVID-19 symptoms, the FDA is conducting an investigation. At this time, the FDA is not aware of scientific evidence supporting this connection. The FDA will communicate publicly when more information is available. The FDA’s current advice is “for those who wish to use treatment options other than NSAIDs, there are multiple over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications approved for pain relief and fever reduction. FDA suggests speaking to your health care professional if you are concerned about taking NSAIDs and rely on these medications to treat chronic diseases.” Please read the FDA announcement
for more details.