Initial findings from a UK community-based COVID-19 study show that people with MS have no higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general population, during the early phase of the pandemic when strict precautions were taken.
The UK MS Register launched the study before the national lockdown was announced.
With no accurate or accessible test to diagnose COVID-19 at the time, the researchers relied on self-diagnosis, based on symptoms – an approach adopted in other large-scale studies and in line with UK government policy not to seek medical advice for mild symptoms.
Published by BMJ’s Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry , the findings from March (17th) to April (24th) 2020, show out of 3,910 participants, 237 (6.1%) reported self-diagnosed COVID-19, among whom 54 (22.8%) also had a diagnosis by a healthcare professional based on symptoms and 37 (15.6%) a confirmed diagnosis by testing.
Three participants were hospitalised due to COVID-19, and no deaths were reported.
Participants were asked to recruit healthy controls- their sibling without MS, closest in age, not living with them, and had self-diagnosed with COVID-19. The likelihood of having COVID-19 was assessed using multivariable regression analysis with the variables: age, gender, ethnicity, MS duration and type, self-isolation and disease modifying therapies (DMTs).
During the period of 17th March – 24th April, when the country was under strick lockdown measures, the incidence of COVID-19 in the population of people with MS was not higher than that of the general population, and they were not found to be at a higher risk of having COVID-19 compared to their siblings without MS.
While this particular paper did not look at the data on symptoms from people with MS and from doctors across the UK, it is currently being analysed so we will know more about this soon.
As the lock down eases the MS Register will also continue to monitor incidence and risk.
Rod Middleton, paper author and Programme Manager and System Architect of the UK MS Register at Swansea University, said:
“The low hospitalisation rate may be due to the patient-reported nature of the study. People who are hospitalised are less able to respond to surveys.”
We were not surprised that self-isolating people with MS had a lower risk of contracting COVID-19, and we found older people with MS and those with Progressive MS to be less likely to have COVID-19 due to the fact that they were self-isolating more.
Similar to previous research, we found evidence that people with MS from non-Caucasian ethnicity had a higher chance of contracting COVID-19, but we will need to study larger numbers to confirm this.”
DOI of the letter published by BMJ’s Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry
Self-diagnosed COVID-19 in people with multiple sclerosis: a community-based cohort of the UK MS Regsiter
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