My MS Makes Getting Sick With a Viral Infection 10 Times Worse

It’s like multiple sclerosis is a magnifying glass for illness, writes Ben Hofmeister

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by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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School started last week for our three kids. They got to see friends from the last school year, meet their new teachers, and sit at a new desk in their new classrooms. Per tradition, there was no homework assigned the first week, but they still brought home plenty of papers for us to sign and return. Also per tradition, they brought home a lovely upper respiratory virus.

Starting last Thursday evening, it made its rounds through our family of five, hitting me sometime Saturday night. As far as illnesses go, it’s been fairly mild, and everybody seems to have weathered it well and shaken it in about 24 hours — everybody but me, that is, because multiple sclerosis (MS) just can’t seem to leave well enough alone.

Sometime late Saturday night, I woke with a chill, wrapped myself tightly in bedcovers, and drifted into a dream. I don’t really have lucid dreams where I’m in control of the action, but I’m often aware that I’m dreaming. At one point in my dream, I was having a bit of a foggy, uncoordinated moment and told myself, “You’re acting like you do when you have a fever.” Turns out my subconscious is pretty smart.

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I awoke Sunday morning to a low-grade fever, which in my pre-MS life I may not have even bothered taking anything for. Unfortunately, with MS and the Uhthoff’s syndrome that often accompanies it, even a half-degree rise in body temperature demands my undivided attention. It’s as though multiple sclerosis is a magnifying glass for illness.

Spasticity, previously under control, returns to what feels like pre-baclofen pump levels. Legs are stiffened out straight, arms feel like they’re moving in Jell-O, and hands feel like someone is curling all of the fingers while holding the fists tightly closed. Diplopia, or double vision, is constant rather than occurring only with fatigue. Speaking of which, MS fatigue and its companion, brain fog, which are normally difficult to describe, seem to be made 10 times worse by a febrile illness.

Multiple sclerosis makes a mockery of spontaneity in everyday life, but it eliminates any hope of sickness spontaneity. (I may have just invented a new term.) By that, I mean that in the years before MS, I would’ve awakened sick and perhaps decided to stay in bed, but still would have staggered to the medicine cabinet, the bathroom, or the kitchen as needed. I would have reacted to the symptoms on my own timeline instead of being forced by MS to act with an immediacy bordering on foresight.

Once the fever is under control, I’m functional but exhausted, so barely functional. Even in this improved state, I doubt I could manage without help. If I didn’t have my wife to take care of me, the only way I could conceivably take care of myself would be to somehow see an illness coming and pre-stage all my needs or keep an emergency supply by the bed. Not exactly spontaneous.

I know it sounds like I’m complaining — and I am — but this isn’t the “him-fluenza,” the “bro-chitis,” or even the “dude-onic plague.” I don’t have a clever MS specific name for this yet. If you do, please share it in the comments below.

The cruel synergy between MS and being sick may not have an official (or unofficial) name, but those of us who experience it know it well and have every right to complain.

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Phil avatar



You're already sick, you can't afford an illness. Do everything you can to prevent it. That's just the way it is. I am a completely different person after MS, especially behaviorally. If we get ill, we just get sicker.

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

Thanks Phil! I'm fully recovered (which also takes longer thanks to MS). I even made it out to physical therapy twice this week.


Lisa Dryden avatar

Lisa Dryden

Thank you for sharing this MS conundrum! I too have this affliction ! Whenever I have a viral illness, bacterial infection or immunizations, all the symptoms I have ever experienced with MS (secondary progressive now) are hyper vigilant!
It’s like you turn on the faucet and it will not turn off until the illness subsides. MS - MAKES me SICK

Benjamin Hofmeister avatar

Benjamin Hofmeister

You're spot on Lisa! I think all of us with MS deal with this to one extent or the other....well probably mostly the bad extent.



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