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MS and coronavirus care and support

We’ve been talking to lots of people across the UK about multiple sclerosis and COVID-19. These are some of the questions that crop up the most. Where services are different in different parts of the UK, we try to show this.

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.

Do you know someone who doesn’t have web access? They can get essential information in our Coronavirus and MS factsheet.

What's new?

We last updated our pages on Thursday 3 September 2020 with information about seeing your health care team

Or follow these links to read all our information about:

  1. MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?
  2. MS, social distancing and self-isolation
  3. I have MS, what should I do if I catch COVID-19 or someone I live with does?
  4. Coronavirus, MS healthcare services and hospital appointments
  5. Getting help with shopping and prescriptions in lockdown
  6. Finances and benefits in lockdown
  7. Working during lockdown
  8. MS, carers and care at home during lockdown

1. MS and coronavirus (COVID-19) – what are the risks?

Early research indicates that 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. For example, that could be because of frailty or having long-term conditions besides MS. Researchers are continuing to monitor this as lockdown eases

Read the full list of 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.

Studies so far indicate that in general being on a DMT doesn’t increase your risk of getting COVID-19 or having worse symptoms. But there are some specific cases where a DMT is likely to increase risk.

Our medical advisers say people with MS should take particular care for at least 12 weeks after courses of alemtuzumab and cladribine. This is because we know these drugs can temporarily have a big impact on the immune system. Ocrelizumab might moderately increase your risk, also due to its impact on the immune system.

You should follow your MS team's advice about treatments and any extra social distancing measures they recommend. You can read specific treatment advice on our DMTs and coronavirus page

MS and coronavirus research

As this coronavirus is so new, we don’t fully understand how it affects people with MS yet. But there's lots of research investigating this and will help us learn more. Help us understand more about how the pandemic is affecting our community by taking the MS Register survey on coronavirus and MS.

Are people with MS in the "clinically vulnerable" group?

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.

Read who’s in the clinically vulnerable group on the UK government website

Are people with MS in the “extremely vulnerable” or “high risk” group?

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

Earlier in the pandemic, the UK governments recommended people self-isolate (shield) if they were considered extremely vulnerable. Nation-wide shielding has now been paused, though some local restrictions recommend shielding or other precautions. Your local council will have details.

Read about what pausing shielding means for people with MS

Read specific treatment advice on our DMTs and coronavirus page

Read who’s in the extremely vulnerable group on the UK government website

What else might put me at higher risk from COVID-19 if I have MS?

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 if that’s recommended in your area for people considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’. At the least, we’d recommend you do even less outside your home or garden than other people when shielding’s in place. And go out as little as possible for exercise and essential shopping.

Find out how to get support with getting prescriptions and 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. Read more about staying safe at work

2. MS, social distancing and self-isolation

Right now everyone still needs to practice social distancing. And the UK government says people with MS should be “particularly stringent” about following the guidelines. That means

Everyone with MS is considered ‘clinically vulnerable’, so the governments recommend you’re especially careful about social distancing and hand hygiene. 

Each UK nation has its own detailed guidance and rules. There could also be differences at a more local level when they’re needed. If there’s different advice for your city or county, your local council website should have details. Find your local council at gov.uk

Read the UK government social distancing guidelines for England

Read the Scottish government social distancing guidelines

Read the Welsh government social distancing guidelines 

Read the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency social distancing guidelines 

What is 1m plus?

In Northern Ireland and England whenever people need to social distance, they should stay:

  • 2 metres apart

or

  • 1 metre with extra precautions (also called '1m plus')

Both governments have said that people should keep the 2 metres distance where possible. More information about the rules for England and the rules for Northern Ireland.

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.

In Scotland, the government relaxed the 2 metre rule in some circumstances from 10 July. But they said 2 metre distancing is still important for people over 70 or with an underlying health condition. Read the details of the Scottish government’s 2m rule in their COVID-19 route map 

In Wales, there are some circumstances where less than 2 metres is allowed in a workplace, with extra precautions. But businesses must take all reasonable measures to maintain 2 metre distancing. Read the details of the Welsh government’s 2 metre rule in the workplace and public premises

Read more about COVID safety at work

Can I form a support bubble or ‘extended household’?

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. In this support bubble, you can think of yourselves as one household for coronavirus guidelines.

In Wales, any four households can form an ‘extended household’. You can think of yourselves as one household for the rules of lockdown. 

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 all UK nations, you should only form a support bubble with one other household and you shouldn’t change your bubble once it’s formed.

In England, Wales and Scotland, the guidance for support bubbles or ‘extended households’ includes: 

  • 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

Although the risk for individual people with MS from COVID-19 varies widely, everyone with MS is technically 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.

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.

In Wales, the advice is to take special care if anyone in the extended household is clinically vulnerable.

If you’ve been shielding, you can be part of a bubble, unless local restrictions say otherwise. Check the guidance for your nation for any detailed advice for people considered ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’. Everyone in the bubble should take precautions as they would in a single household. 

Read the UK government guidelines on support bubbles in England

Read the Scottish government guidelines on extended households

Read the Northern Ireland government guidelines for support bubbles

Read the Welsh government guidelines for extended households

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.

If you have coronavirus symptoms, you and your household (or support bubble) should self-isolate. Wearing a face covering doesn’t change this.

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. Each nation also has guidance for face coverings in schools. Read more about what schools are doing to reduce the risks of COVID-19 

  • In England, face coverings are now compulsory for most people in lots of public spaces. This includes public transport, shops, museums and hospitals. In emergencies, if you arrive at hospital without a face covering, they should provide one. In other public spaces, you don’t have to wear one if your MS or another condition means you can’t wear a face covering, or take it on and off. Or if doing that would cause you severe distress. Under 11s are also exempt.
  • In Scotland, face coverings are compulsory for most people on public transport and in shops. 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 other enclosed public spaces.
  • In Northern Ireland, almost everyone aged 13 or over has to wear a face covering on public transport, and in many shared public spaces. This includes most shops and shopping centres. You don’t have to wear one if your MS or another condition means you can’t wear a face covering, or take it on and off – or if doing that would cause you severe distress.
  • The Welsh government website recommends that people in Wales wear three-layer face coverings wherever social distancing isn’t possible. Almost everyone aged 11 or over has to wear this kind of face covering on public transport. You don’t have to wear one if your MS or another condition means you can’t wear a face covering, or take it on and off. Watch the Welsh government’s guide to making a suitable three-layer face covering.

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 10 days if you have any 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.

Getting tested

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.

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.

Book a COVID-19 test online in England and Wales or call 119.

Book a COVID-19 test online in Scotland or call 0800 028 2816

Book a COVID-19 test online in Northern Ireland or call 0300 303 2713

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.

They advise this because everyone with MS is technically considered ‘clinically vulnerable’. The risk of individual people with MS from COVID-19, though, can vary widely. 

If you don’t 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.

Find support with care at home if you’re self-isolating

Find support to shop and collect prescriptions

Find ways to stay mentally and physically active in lockdown

4. Coronavirus, MS health services and hospital appointments

Will my MS health care team still be available?

You should contact your MS team as you normally would. Our medical advisers stress the importance of attending appointments with healthcare professionals, or seeking help if you feel seriously unwell.

We know many MS services have been disrupted during the pandemic and this has resulted in long waiting times for some care. So it might be more difficult to get appointments for routine things like annual reviews. You're likely to be offered an appointment by phone or video call where it's not essential to be seen face to face.

Remember, always 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

Social care services and the Coronavirus Act

The Coronavirus Act and Coronavirus (Scotland) Act could affect your social care services if you live in England, Wales or Scotland.

Read our Coronavirus Act news story to find out how it applies across the UK

DMT homecare delivery service

If 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.

Visit the National Clinical Homecare Association for information about homecare and coronavirus

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.

Read about ways to get help with shopping and prescriptions

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.

Find out about changes to benefits and extra financial help

7. Working and MS during and after lockdown

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.

Read our information about working when you or your loved one have MS

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.

Read our information for carers and people with MS who get direct care from care workers

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.

Chat online

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 3 September 2020

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