With COVID levels peaking again this winter, the potential impact of COVID-19 on health and wellbeing is understandably still a source of concern for people with MS. But a new study offers a glimmer of hope, suggesting the virus may not have as severe an impact on MS as previously feared.
Several research studies since COVID struck have looked at how the virus affects people with MS. Most have focused on how having an MS diagnosis can affect a person’s ability to fight COVID. Older age, obesity, severe disability, and some disease-modifying therapies have now been associated with an increased risk of severe COVID among people with MS.
The effects of COVID on MS itself are less understood. Emerging data suggests adverse effects on the immune system, brain, and mental health for months after infection, possibly resulting in long COVID. However, a 2022 Austrian study suggested that COVID, at least in its mild form, does not increase the risk of relapses or disability after six months.
This new study conducted in Milan, Italy, aimed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the long-term implications of COVID on people with MS. The research team compared two groups of people with MS: 136 with confirmed COVID infection and 186 who had no history of COVID infection. Over a follow-up period of 18–24-months, they carried out a range of clinical, neuropsychological, and immune response assessments.
What did the study find?
The study found no evidence of exacerbated MS symptoms or long-term complications in MS patients who had been infected with COVID compared to those who had not.
Clinical assessments, such as the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) and MRI brain scans, revealed no significant differences in disease activity, disability progression, or MRI findings between the two groups. Neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric assessments also showed similar outcomes for cognitive function, fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep quality, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Why is this important?
The findings provide reassurance that the COVID virus is unlikely to significantly worsen MS. However, vigilance in avoiding COVID infection, especially for those at higher risk of severe illness, remains crucial. The study also highlights the need for larger-scale studies over longer periods, including people with more severe forms of COVID-19, to confirm and expand on these results.