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.
Do you know someone who doesn’t have web access? They can get essential information in our Coronavirus and MS factsheet.
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:
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
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
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 researchAs 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.
- Find out what we’ve already learned from responses to the MS Register survey
- Read our blog about an early study on COVID-19 and MS in Italy
- Find out what to do if you think you or a loved one have COVID-19
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- stay 2 metres (6ft) away from people outside your household (or support bubble) Read about '1m plus' in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland
- wash your hands regularly
- check your government’s advice and rules on face coverings and meeting up with other people.
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
In Northern Ireland and 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Read the full UK government guidance on face coverings, 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
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.
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 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.
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 ActThe Coronavirus Act and Coronavirus (Scotland) Act could 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.
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.
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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