Research Alert

Newswise — Background: The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has introduced uncertainties into the multiple sclerosis (MS) community and the focus so far has been the severity of infection among people with MS (pwMS) who have COVID-19. This approach has left questions about the risk of contracting disease in pwMS unanswered which has implications as society gradually returns to normal.

Objectives: To evaluate the trend of COVID-19 incidence in pwMS, their behaviour in response to the outbreak, and the effect of their demographic and clinical characteristics on the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.

Methods: The United Kingdom MS Register (UKMSR) has been collecting demographic and MS related data since 2011 from pwMS all over the UK. On 17 March 2020, existing participants of the UKMSR were asked to join the COVID-19 study. The study was also advertised through social media. In this on-going study, pwMS answer a COVID-19 related survey at participation and a different follow-up survey every two weeks depending on whether they report COVID-19.

Results: We estimate the nationwide overall incidence of COVID-19 in pwMS as 10% (n=522) among 5237 participants until 24 June 2020. The weekly incidence peaked during the 2nd week after lockdown started on 23 March 2020 (13.2%) and remained high until it dropped to 3.5% in the 10th week. The mean (standard deviation) age of the study population was 52.4 (11.9), 76.1% (n=3985) were female, and 95.7% (n=5012) were of white ethnicity. PwMS with a higher web-based Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) score are more likely to self-isolate (odds ratio [OR] 1.389, 95%CI [confidence interval] 1.333−1.447). PwMS who are taking disease modifying therapies (DMTs) and those with progressive MS tend to self-isolate more (OR 1.259, 95%CI 1.059−1.497 and OR 1.245, 95% CI 1.013−1.531, respectively). Older age, progressive MS, and white ethnicity were associated with a lower likelihood of having COVID-19 (OR 0.969, 95%CI 0.957−0.982 and OR 0.595, 95% 0.422−0.838 and OR 0.495, 95%CI 0.347−0.705, respectively). Gender, EDSS, MS Impact Scale version 29 scores and DMTs did not alter the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the largest community-based study of COVID-19 in pwMS worldwide. The trend of COVID-19 in pwMS is comparable to that of the UK general population. During a period with strict physical distancing measures, pwMS are not at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Presenter: Afagh Garjani, University of Nottingham, Division of Clinical Neuroscience