According to a story from NeurologyLive, patients being treated for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or myasthenia gravis could be at heightened risk of infection with coronavirus because of their suppressed immune systems. In addition, they are also more likely to experience severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms. Dr. Robert Fox is a neurologist with the Mellen Center for MS and recently sat down for an interview to help provide instructions for what multiple sclerosis patients should do to prepare during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
About Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease which is characterized by damage to the myelin sheath, a fatty, insulating, protective covering that surrounds nerve cells and allows them to communicate effectively. Although a precise cause has not been determined, multiple sclerosis is considered an autoimmune disease, in which a certain trigger, such as an infection, may cause the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue. Smoking and certain genetic variants are also considered risk factors for the disease. Symptoms include blurred vision, double vision, blindness in one eye, numbness, abnormal sensations, pain, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, difficulty speaking and swallowing, mood instability, depression, loss of coordination, and fatigue. There are a number of treatments available for the disease, but no cure. Life expectancy for patients is slightly reduced. To learn more about multiple sclerosis, click here.
What About My Treatment?
Dr. Fox’s first piece of advice is not to halt your medication regimen, even though it may be tempting as a way to restore your immune system. However, Dr. Fox says that it isn’t worth the risk:
“Given what we know about the current risks of COVID-19, MS therapy interruptions appear more likely to be harmful than helpful.”
Regardless, it can be worth having a conversation with your doctor when you are due for your next dose to weigh the risks and benefits. In places where coronavirus is actively spreading, multiple sclerosis patients should take steps to isolate themselves from others as much as they can. This is the best way for any person, whether a patient or otherwise, to bring down their risk of infection.
Patients who are using treatment with autologous hematopoietic stem cells (which includes chemotherapy) should be especially careful, and patients who are considering it should postpone the treatment if at all possible.
Learn more about guidelines for multiple sclerosis patients here.