MS and Your Immune System: ‘Tis the Season for the Flu

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

by Jennifer (Jenn) Powell |

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Jennifer Silver Linings

Fall is my favorite season. I love the change in temperature, the falling of amber leaves, trading flip-flops for loafers, the din of football games, and the joy of the holiday season. There is so much to enjoy, yet this particular Sunday I am sick. I have acquired the first of what will be a long succession of bugs.

Bah! Humbug!

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and nerves. Those with MS have compromised immune systems. Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) such as Rituxan (rituximab) and Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) can further compromise the immune system leaving us vulnerable to infection.

I cannot take stronger DMTs because I could die. Forgive my frankness, but few can comprehend my reality where a common bladder or kidney infection has the potential to overwhelm my immune system.

I am extremely vulnerable. I catch bugs most people would easily fend off. When I do contract a virus, the duration and severity of the illness are longer and more debilitating than that endured by others. Because my body is open to infection, I am wary of situations in which my exposure is heightened: Parties, grocery stores, airplanes, movie theaters, workplaces, and doctor’s offices are potential danger zones. It only takes one sneeze, one door handle, one handshake, or one grocery cart handle to take me down.

And I fall hard.

Hence, I take measures to protect myself. I wipe down handles on grocery carts; I open doors with a tissue or sleeve over my hand; I carry hand sanitizer and wash my hands with hot, soapy water. I can control my own behavior, but I cannot control yours.

Connect with other patients and share tips on how to manage MS in our forums!

If you are sick, please stay home. I understand that you don’t want to miss a day’s pay, but I do not want to endure three days of IV steroids to reduce the inevitable inflammation. You might have the energy to grab some groceries, but I do not have the energy to fight pneumonia. You do not want to miss out on a party, but I do not want to miss a scheduled infusion because my health has been compromised.

Your minor cold could be my pneumonia. As my disease progresses, my ability to fight infection declines. Your army may be formidable, but my troops are weary. Your immunity will strengthen while mine will continue to deteriorate.

There is no way to fully protect myself, and I understand that sometimes things just happen. I am on day five of what should have run its course by now. Instead, the malaise is heavy, and new symptoms are beginning to appear — this is how my body reacts to infection.

As we enter the thick of the fall season, I call on my internal warriors to defend their homeland. Unlike your strong, able-bodied, and youthful soldiers, my army is composed of those who have fought one too many battles. But like me, the desire to rise and thrive guides them. And like me, they fight one day at a time.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Pam N. avatar

Pam N.

YES, this is complete truth. If you know that you're sick, please be mindful of those of us who can't fight off those cooties as well as you. Stay home!

Matthew Coil avatar

Matthew Coil

Very well written. Thank you for putting into writing our fall reality. I will continue fighting on with your inspiration pulling me forward.

Deborah avatar


Your words are powerful and so important to inform them if the consequences of their choices- some people need an analogy to relate since they cannot comprend a life where an infection “is no big deal” and therefore knowingly expose others. This particular battle of protecting ourselves from the stupidity of others when they don’t listen, and the complacency and ignorance of those who just don’t care, is a constant vigilance for those with compromised immune systems. It can harm or kill.
That vigilance isolates us even further when we cannot trust humanity to do what is right. When the news reports the number of deaths related to flu every year, I wonder if those people who were sick thought about the consequences of their actions- popping into a store (for some milk or whatever they thought they couldn’t live without, or going to any public space was okay) that maybe they caused someone’s death whose immune system couldn’t handle the attack. If people followed guidelines (they know when they are sick because the body is sending big warning signs that a bug is wreaking havoc - temperature, aches, sore throat, vomiting,headache, etc) there would not be epidemics. They are making a conscious choice to go in public. Ignorance is no longer an excuse!

Cyndi avatar


Excellent article. I only hope those that do not have MS or another autoimmune disease will read and heed it. Yes, everyday is a battle against catching something. Never thought I would become a germaphobe.

Patrick A Fontenello avatar

Patrick A Fontenello

I have had S.P.M.S. for five years now.
I am also diagnosed bipolar I for much longer. I have learned much about myself from M.S. I am finding an philosophy for life. I have seen the dark side in my own life. It is my practice to bring change into this world by changing myself. Only in this way can I find the 'light' side. It is here, all around.

Roland Clarke avatar

Roland Clarke

good warning - My first battle lasted a month and I fear more. The grandkids bounce back but I go down badly.

Harold Sammons avatar

Harold Sammons

I've been living with My MS since 1984; I had to retire in 2013,because of loss of balance, bad fatigue, complications; I have been on 'AVONEX' INJECTIONS' since 1994 and was able to continue full time work, till a case of flu, a cold, whatever it was ,stuck me in the hospital for a week, and i had a badrelasp ; that was when the Doctors suggested that I retire, plus the workplace was affraid I was a insurance hazard, sinceI had no sense of balance and couldn't climb, carry heavy parts, and my eyesight is limited. Over 50 years of working at a standstill, now.

Colette Massey avatar

Colette Massey

Ditto to all previous posts. TY for the article.

Jeanne Marie Wallace avatar

Jeanne Marie Wallace

Very well written but I do have one Question If I take pneumonia shot how often do I take this shot? is it once a year of every three years, etc. I have heard different times. thank you for your time and answer.

Chris avatar


MS effects everyone differently. I am a 52-year old male and have the Relapse Remitting variety. For a while in my 40's I suffered a lot of anxiety and colds and flus. Then I decided to clean up my act and start eating a lot better and reducing my stress (yes I know you can't control everything to do with stress) gradually over the past three years I have improved to the point where I have not have a cold of flu in 2019 or the start of 2020. In some certain people with MS have heightened immune system enabling us to fight off infections easier than most people I disagree with what you are saying. Everyone is different!

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell avatar

Jennifer (Jenn) Powell

Hi Chris!

Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

You are correct, we are all affected differently. How wonderful that you are nourishing your body to be strong with a better immune system. Kudos to you.

Keep up that awesome job!



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