Nonambulatory People With MS Don't Fare Well With COVID-19

For people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and MS-like conditions (such as neuromyelitis optica and MOG antibody disease) — particularly those taking certain disease-modifying drugs — the prospect of infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‐CoV‐2), the virus that causes COVID-19, is a scary one.

New data released by COViMS (COVID-19 Infections in MS and Related Diseases) clarifies just how scary it is.

Study Finds MS-Specific Factors Are Associated With Worse Outcomes

In October, the organization updated data from 2020 that it had published March 19 in JAMA Neurology.

Amber Salter, PhD, an associate professor of biostatistics at UT Southwestern, in Dallas, and her coauthors found “MS-specific factors such as ambulatory disability, treatment with rituximab [Rituxan], and recent corticosteroid use [are] associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes.”

In fact, “worse” is really quite a bit worse.

Ambulatory Disability Raises the Risk — a Lot

According to the updated numbers, 0.6 percent of fully ambulatory MS patients with COVID died, 2.0 percent needed care in the ICU or were on a ventilator, and 7.5 percent were hospitalized. But a far greater number of nonambulatory MS patients filled those categories. The difference is striking … and frightening.

Among COVID-19 patients whose MS has taken their ability to walk, 14.0 percent died of the disease; 8.3 percent were admitted to an ICU or placed on a ventilator; and 24.6 percent were hospitalized.

The review study considered a total of 3,452 people with MS. Just over 75 percent were women, and nearly 82 percent had relapsing-remitting MS. Nearly 47 percent were from U.S. Census regions in the south.

Though “nonambulatory” may feel like it limits the severity to a smaller wedge of the MS patient pie, the original paper reported that “ambulatory disability, both nonambulatory and requiring assistance to walk, was independently associated with increased odds of poor clinical severity levels after adjusting for other risk factors.”

What Is COViMS, Anyway?

According to its website, “COViMS (COVID-19 Infections in MS and Related Diseases) is a joint effort of the National MS Society, Consortium of MS Centers, and Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada to capture information on outcomes of people with MS and other CNS demyelinating diseases (neuromyelitis optica, or MOG antibody disease) who have developed COVID-19.”

They also state that “the goal of the registry is to rapidly define the impact of COVID-19 on patients with MS and how factors such as age, comorbidities, and MS treatments impact COVID-19 outcomes.”

How Can You Participate if You’ve Had COVID-19?

While the COViMS registry is set up for healthcare professionals to report cases of COVID-19 and not for the patients themselves, the organization does encourage people with MS to ask their doctors if they have reported their case to the site and to ask them to do so if not.

For those of us with multiple sclerosis who would like to participate in COVID-19-related research, COViMS offers a link to an NMSS page with a number of study participation options.

RELATED: 5 Lessons for Surviving COVID-19 Isolation When You Have MS

The Need for Ongoing Vigilance

As we near the two-year mark from when SARS‐CoV‐2 first emerged, it is becoming more and more apparent that those of us with MS must continue to be vigilant in protecting ourselves and our families from the virus. Particularly for those of us for whom walking has become an issue due to multiple sclerosis, these new figures highlight the urgency.

Wishing you and your family the best of health.



My book, Chef Interrupted, is available on Amazon. Follow me on the Life With MS Facebook page and on Twitter, and read more on Life With Multiple Sclerosis.

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