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Why People with MS are at an Elevated Risk for COVID-19

By Matt Cavallo
Elevated-COVID-19-Risj-For-People-With-MS_1.jpegWhen I went in for my last treatment, it was the end of February. Armageddon had not yet begun. At that time, I hadn’t heard about the Coronavirus, COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2. I also didn’t know there was a city in China named Wuhan. Less than a month later, these keywords are all too familiar. What does COVID-19 mean for people living with MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease which means that the immune system produces antibodies that attack normal tissue, or in the case of MS, the central nervous system which is the brain and spine. In order to slow the progress of MS, treatments have been developed that suppress the immune system. 

Treatments that suppress the immune system go by several terms such as: immunosuppressant, immune suppressant drug, immunosuppressive, immunosuppressive drug, and immunosuppressive therapy. A person who uses these types of treatments is considered immune compromised, which means that a person’s immune system is weakened and may have a hard time fighting off invading organisms. Some MS treatments are immune suppressants, including the one that I am on.

At the current time, there is no scarier invading organism than COVID-19.  Right before the Coronavirus touched down in America, I had just had my immune system suppressed. When the news started to break, I learned that people with underlying conditions, such as MS, who are immune-suppressed are at increased risk of contracting the virus. For me, the timing of my treatment couldn’t have been worse. The problem was that life doesn’t stop just because of an increased risk. I still had to work. I still had to put food on the table for my family. 

As COVID-19 gained steam, I wanted to talk to my boss about being immunosuppressed, but before I got the chance, my work team was ordered to start working from home. While it was a relief that I had the option to work from home, I know that, unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. 

There are ways of talking about your condition without disclosing that you have MS. For example, you could tell your boss that you take a medication that is considered an immune suppressant and that you are concerned about being at risk. In saying that, you don’t have to say what you take it for and the focus goes to the risk and making sure you are safe.

As a side note, if you are immune suppressed and have to go to work, make sure that you keep a safe distance, wash your hands and try to use gloves, towels or take other precautions to avoid touching things that people constantly touch like doorknobs. There should be no repercussion to letting your workplace know that you need special accommodations because of your condition, but I understand that is a difficult conversation to have. 

Because of my immune suppression, I have been taking social distancing seriously since before it was required. Because I was worried about being exposed to germs after my treatment even before the pandemic, I always take extra precautions to stay healthy. I feel those precautions have put me in a good position to adapt to the current health crisis.

If you wonder if your MS treatment is immunosuppressant, call your neurologist. Understand that being immune suppressed could put you at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Take every precaution, including social distancing seriously. Hopefully, there is a cure for COVID-19 soon and we can get back to our normal lives. Stay safe everyone!