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How multiple sclerosis and COVID-19 interact

What seems like a flare-up of MS could be Covid-19 in disguise.

HARTFORD, Conn — The world may have slowed down because of Covid-19, but diseases like multiple sclerosis haven’t. Many MS patients are on drugs that suppress their immune systems, and it’s understandable if they’re worried that either MS could make a case of Covid-19 worse, or the opposite - that Covid-19 could make MS worse. While we don’t have definitive answers yet, Dr. Jaime Imitola from UConn Health does have some good news.

“The important news that we have to share with patients right now is that the initial data from patients with Covid-19 and MS does not suggest they will be overwhelmed because of the fact they are on an immunosuppressor,” said Dr. Imitola, “although we have to take this data as very preliminary and again be cautious about the way we handle patients.”

While one may not worsen the other, Dr. Imitola said there still could be some confusion between the two.

“One of the key issues that we are worried is that many of those symptoms of MS may actually be relapses in the context of Covid-19. Remember, Covid-19 doesn’t make MS worse but any viral infections in an MS patient will make the patient feel worse,” he said.

In other words, what seems like a flare-up of MS could be Covid-19 in disguise.

Doctor Imitola said Connecticut’s stay-at-home order caused visits to UConn Health’s MS clinic to drop, but the numbers are rebounding, and he and his staff are taking all the precautions to keep patients safe.

“There are screeners, we take temperatures we have a great deal of questions and a questionnaire that is done prior to the patient booking the visit,” Dr. Imitola said, “and during the process of coming here we ask the patients to wear masks and gloves and the physicians will wear masks and gloves and try to maintain the examination to a minimum.”

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