Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and COVID-19

Advice and guidance on COVID-19 for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

On this page, we provide general information and advice about the COVID-19 pandemic for people living with MS. If you have any specific concerns or would like further information, keep reading. You can also look at our useful links section where you will find the most up-to-date information around the pandemic and what it means for people living with MS. In addition, speak to your healthcare team for further advice and guidance.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that affects the airways and organs and is easily spread from person to person. It’s caused by a virus, specifically a new type of coronavirus that was recently identified in China in December 2019. It has now spread to almost every country in the world.

The name COVID-19 is the abbreviation for COronaVIrus Disease 2019, and the term corona means “crown”, as the virus looks like a crown under a microscope. There are many different kinds of coronaviruses. Some of them can cause colds or other mild respiratory illnesses (affecting the nose, throat, or lungs).

Most people who are infected with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms and usually recover without needing special treatment. People of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (with a body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
If someone becomes infected with COVID-19, it usually takes around 5–6 days for symptoms to appear. But sometimes symptoms might not appear until 14 days after initial infection. Some reports have indicated that people with no symptoms can transmit the virus. It is not yet known how often it happens. The World Health Organization (WHO) is assessing ongoing research on the topic and continues to share updated findings.
Most common symptoms Fever, dry cough, fatigue
Less common symptoms Aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, a skin rash, or discolouration of fingers or toes
Serious symptoms Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, loss of speech or movement
You should follow the Public Health Agency of Canada recommendations if you experience any of these symptoms. Seek urgent medical advice if you experience any serious symptoms.

COVID-19 is spread from person to person, but it’s still not clear how easily this can happen. It’s thought that this occurs via droplets of saliva from the mouth or nose (so, coughs and sneezes), close and prolonged personal contact, and touching something with the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. For this reason, it’s important to cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. It’s also essential to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or with alcohol hand sanitizer.

General guidelines for members of the public

The WHO and the Public Health Agency of Canada give the following advice to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to protect yourself and others:

  • Clean your hands regularly by washing with soap and water or (if soap and water aren’t available) use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Even if you wear gloves when out, you still need to regularly clean your hands and avoid touching your face.
  • Don’t touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth
  • Keep a safe distance from other people (at least two metres)
  • Avoid crowded places and non-essential gatherings
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue (immediately throw the tissue away) and then wash your hands
  • If you are feeling ill and have mild symptoms (including cough, headache, or mild fever), stay at home and self-isolate until you recover. Have someone else drop food and medical supplies off at your house if you need them.
  • If your symptoms worsen, or if you’re experiencing fever or cough or have difficulty breathing, phone your local health authority for medical advice and attention
  • Stay up-to-date and follow the latest information from your local health authority and other trusted sources
  • Avoid shaking hands – greet people with a wave instead
  • Limit contact with people at higher risk

Remember if you are short of breath, immediately call your doctor and seek medical advice.

For more details and to get the latest information and advice about staying safe, visit the WHO website and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Please note: This advice is based on the Public Health Agency of Canada and WHO guidelines, which are updated on an ongoing basis. These guidelines will vary over time and may also differ across countries and regions, so please check the latest advice in your local area.

You are not at increased risk of getting COVID-19 because you have MS. However, because disease modifying therapies (DMTs) work by modifying the immune system, the MS Society of Canada says that people with MS who are on these therapies can face an increased risk of infections. It is recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your risk for COVID-19 or if you think you may be infected. The MS Society of Canada will continuously review and update their guidance as further evidence becomes available.

The MS International Federation (MSIF) notes that, like all members of the general public, people living with MS who are more than 60 years old or have underlying lung and heart conditions are at higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms or complications from COVID-19.

Current evidence suggests that having MS does not increase the risk of death from COVID-19. However, certain people with MS may be at higher risk of having severe illness and going to the hospital if they are infected with COVID-19:

  • People with progressive MS
  • People with MS who are more than 60 years old
  • People with higher levels of disability
  • People with heart or lung disease

As well as following the WHO guidelines for the general public, the MSIF recommends that all people living with MS (and those who live with them or visit them frequently) should do the following:

  • Wear a face mask in public (follow WHO latest advice on how to use face masks safely here 
  • Avoid public gatherings and crowds 
  • Avoid using public transport, if possible
  • Have telephone appointments rather than face-to-face routine medical appointments, if available

The MSIF suggests that until the understanding of how COVID-19 affects MS is improved, people living with MS, who are in the higher risk groups and their caregivers, should still follow the guidelines outlined in the ‘What’s the latest guidance on COVID-19 for people living with MS?’ section to reduce risk of infection, even if your local lockdown rules are relaxed.

If you have COVID-19 (suspected or confirmed) or have been in close contact with a person that has COVID-19, stay at home and contact your MS and primary healthcare provider as soon as possible for further advice.

MSIF suggests you may want to consider self-isolating for an appropriate amount of time if you take steroid treatment for relapses.

There is currently no specific COVID-19 guidance for children with MS or for women with MS who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you are a healthcare worker and have MS, you are not considered at higher risk of infection and should follow the same personal protective equipment (PPE) procedures as your colleagues.

The COViMS, which stands for ‘COVID-19 Infections in MS & Related Diseases’, is a collaboration between The National MS Society, the Consortium of MS Centers, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada with the aim of capturing the latest information on how COVID-19 affects people with MS and other neurological diseases.

If you think you’ve had COVID-19 or know someone who is living with MS who has been affected, please report this information on this website and help the COViMS consortium to better understand the impact of COVID-19 in people with MS.

It is important to talk to your healthcare team for further advice and information if you have concerns about your MS treatment and COVID-19.

Many DMTs work on your immune system. There is limited data suggesting that some MS medications might increase the risk of developing complications from COVID-19, but this risk needs to be balanced with the risk of stopping or delaying treatment. Guidance is continually changing and treatment decisions will need to be made based on your individual circumstances and needs, so speak to your healthcare team for the latest advice that is relevant for you.

See below for the latest guidance from the MSIF on taking DMTs during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • If you are already being treated with a DMT, you should continue treatment
  • If you develop symptoms of or test positive for COVID-19, discuss your MS treatment with your healthcare team before taking any action regarding treatment 
  • Before starting a new DMT, discuss treatment options with your healthcare team to find the treatment that is best for you, considering the risk of COVID-19 in your region, and the risks associated with each treatment type 
  • Check with your healthcare team if you need to self-isolate, as certain treatments may be associated with an increased risk of severe disease and hospitalisation from COVID-19 in people living with MS (but this is still under investigation)

The specific advice given will depend on the type of treatment and on your individual preferences and needs. Talk to your healthcare team if you have concerns about your MS treatment and for further guidance on whether to start, stop, or change your MS treatment.

The International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (IAPO) has a COVID-19 resource hub, which provides the latest information and links to keep you informed about worldwide cases and latest evidence and guidance around MS and COVID-19.

COViMS (COVID-19 Infections in MS & Related Diseases) is a coronavirus and MS reporting database run jointly by the National MS Society, the Consortium of MS Centers, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

World Health Organization (WHO) is an international organization that directs and coordinates international health within the United Nations system.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is the branch of the Government of Canada that is an excellent resource for COVID-19 in Canada.

COVID-19 resources: Where to get COVID-19 information specific to your province or territory.