The recent outbreak of a novel coronavirus (nCoV) strain or variant, called COVID-19, has put nations and health organizations around the world on high alert.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients could be at a higher risk of acquiring a nCoV infection if they are on immunomodulatory therapy.
Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about this coronavirus and MS, and what to do to prevent infection.
Is there a link between MS and coronaviruses?
MS is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the myelin sheath, the protective covering of nerve fibers.
A more recent study has shown that a particular strain of the human coronavirus (HCoV), associated with respiratory tract infections, might be able to infect the brain and induce neurological diseases with unknown origins, such as MS, encephalitis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 or coronavirus disease 2019, officially designated SARS-CoV-2 (for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), is a strain of the virus first identified in Wuhan, capital of the Hubei Province in China, in December 2019.
COVID-19 is a new strain of the virus, one not previously seen in humans. It is still unclear how it causes disease.
What are the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection?
Symptoms of a typical COVID-19 infection include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can appear between two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and are usually mild. But they can be severe in some people.
Is COVID-19 the same as SARS or MERS?
There have been no cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world since 2004.
Am I at higher risk of COVID-19 as an MS patient?
You may be at a higher risk of acquiring a COVID-19 infection if you are on an approved disease-modifying therapy, such as immunomodulatory medications. This is because these therapies weaken parts of the immune system, and may make you more susceptible to any infection.
That said, this particular strain of the coronavirus is very new. Not much information is available as to exactly how it might affect people with MS.
Should I get tested for COVID-19 if I have MS?
You should immediately get tested for COVID-19 if you experience any of the symptoms described above. You should also get tested if you have been in close contact with someone known to be infected with COVID-19, or have recently traveled to areas with ongoing outbreaks.
How does COVID-19 spread?
Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person via respiratory droplets that are released by coughing, sneezing, or breathing.
There is no evidence to date suggesting that COVID-19 can be transmitted through food or imported goods. Although the virus has its origins in animals, there currently are no reports of household pets becoming infected with COVID-19 or transmitting it to people.
Is a treatment available for COVID-19?
Currently, no medication or vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) exists to treat COVID-19. If the virus has infected you, you should rest and take a lot of fluids. If your symptoms are severe, you should be hospitalized.
How can I prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Following personal hygiene practices are recommended to protect you, and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Wash your hands often with soap, lathering front and back of hands and fingers for at least 15 to 20 seconds. If soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid close contact with someone who is ill; remain at least 6 feet or 1.8 meters apart
- Stay at home if you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue paper, and then dispose of it
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
Should I wear a face mask?
You should wear a face mask if you are confirmed to have a COVID-19 infection or if you are showing symptoms. Health professionals and caregivers working with COVID-19 patients should also wear face masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend healthy individuals wear a face mask. But those who might be vulnerable — like MS patients — might want to consult with their doctor or specialist, and use a face mask if it is recommended.
What tests exist to detect COVID-19?
The CDC has developed a diagnostic panel to detect SARS-CoV-2 that is being shipped to all CDC-qualified labs in the U.S., and to qualified international laboratories.
The CDC is also working to develop a blood test that can identify the presence of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Does a negative test mean I’m not infected?
A negative test in a person who clearly has COVID-19-like symptoms likely means that the COVID-19 virus is not causing the present illness.
What travel considerations should I take?
The usual tips and suggestions for MS patients wanting to undertake travel still apply.
The CDC recommends avoiding non-essential travel to areas with an ongoing spread of COVID-19 infections: China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, and Japan at the moment.
If you cannot avoid travel, ensure that you maintain proper hygiene as described above and try to avoid places where you come into close contact with large groups of people.
Last updated: Mar. 5, 2020
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.
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