Lessons for Patients With MS and COVID-19

Richard Kirkner

September 12, 2020

Two important lessons about managing patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and COVID-19 have emerged from a hospital clinic in Madrid that managed COVID-infected patients with MS through the peak of the pandemic: Combined polymeric chain reaction and serology testing helped avoid disease reactivation in asymptomatic carriers during the pandemic peak, although after the peak PCR alone proved just as effective; and infected MS patients could stay on their MS medications while being treated for COVID-19, as fewer than one in five required hospitalization.

Virginia Meca-Lallana, MD, a neurologist and coordinator of the demyelinating diseases unit at the Hospital of the University of the Princess in Madrid, and colleagues presented their findings in two posters at the Joint European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis-Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS-ACTRIMS) 2020, this year known as MSVirtual2020.

"MS treatments don't seem to make the prognosis of COVID-19 worse, but it is very important to evaluate other risk factors," Dr. Meca-Lallana said in an interview. "MS treatments prevent the patients' disability, and it is very important not to stop them if it isn't necessary."

The results arose from a multidisciplinary safety protocol involving neurology, microbiology, and preventive medicine that the University of Princess physicians developed to keep MS stable in patients diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers obtained 152 PCR nasopharyngeal swabs and 140 serology tests in 90 patients with MS over 3 months before starting a variety of MS treatments: Natalizumab (96 tests), ocrelizumab (36), rituximab (3), methylprednisolone (7), cladribine (4), and dimethyl fumarate (3). The protocol identified 7 asymptomatic carriers—7.8% of the total population—5 of whom had positive immunoglobulin M and G serology. The study also confirmed 5 patients with positive IgM+IgG serology post-infection, but no COVID-19 reactivations were detected after implementation of the protocol.

"The safety protocol reached its objective of avoiding disease reactivation and clinical activation in asymptomatic carriers," Dr. Meca-Lallana said.

The second poster she presented reported on the real-world experience with SARS-CoV-2 in the MS unit at her hospital. The observational, prospective study included 41 cases, 38 of which were relapsing-remitting MS and the remainder progressive MS. The patients had MS for an average of 9 years.

"We need more patients to draw more robust conclusions, but in our patients, MS treatments seem safe in this situation," Dr. Meca-Lallana said. "We did not discontinue treatments, and after our first results, we only delayed treatments in patients with any additional comorbidity or when coming to the hospital was not safe."

A total of 39 patients were taking disease-modifying therapies (DMTs): 46.3% with oral agents, 39% with monoclonal antibodies, and 10% with injectable agents; 27 patients were previously treated with other DMTs. The median Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) was 2.5, and 11 patients had clinical activity the previous year. Eighteen cases were confirmed by PCR or serology, or both, and 23 were diagnosed clinically.

"Multiple sclerosis is a weakening illness," Dr. Meca-Lallana said. "MS treatments do not seem to make the prognosis of COVID-19 worse, but it is very important to evaluate other risk factors."

The SARS-CoV-2 infection does not seem to result in a more aggressive form of the disease in MS patients, and selective immunosuppression may improve their outcomes, she noted.

"MS treatments avoid the patient's disability," the investigator added, "and it is very important not to stop them if it isn't necessary."

Dr. Meca-Lallana had no relevant financial disclosures.

This article also appeared on  MDedge.com , part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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