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COVID-19 risks are no higher in patients with multiple sclerosis



The risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) seems to align with that seen in the general population, new U.S. data suggest. A separate study from the United Kingdom also found similar trends of rates of COVID-19 infection in patients with MS and the general population.

Both studies were presented Sept. 26 at a special session on multiple sclerosis and COVID-19 at a final “Encore” event as part of 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.

The U.S. data appear consistent with studies from several other countries, in that worse COVID-19 outcomes increase with age and higher disability levels, both of which would be expected from findings in the general population.

The U.S. data also show a clear effect of race in MS, with higher rates of adverse COVID-19 outcomes in Black patients, again in line with what is seen in the general population.

“I would say the results from our study and in general do not suggest that MS itself is associated with higher risks of severe COVID-19 outcomes, compared with the general population,” said Amber Salter, PhD.

Dr. Salter, who is assistant professor of biostatistics at Washington University, St. Louis, presented data from the COViMS North American registry, set up for health care providers to report persons with MS who are infected with COVID-19.

The COViMS registry so far has information on 858 patients with MS who have COVID-19 (80% verified by a positive test), as reported from 150 different health care providers in the United States and Canada. The average age was 48 years, with average disease duration of 13.6 years. MS clinical course was reported as relapsing remitting in 78%, secondary progressive in 15%, and primary progressive in 5%. Most patients (72%) were fully ambulatory, 16% could walk with assistance, and 12% were nonambulatory.

Severe COVID-19 outcomes were classified as mortality (which occurred in 5.7% of the cohort), mortality/ICU admission (13.6%) and mortality/ICU admission/hospitalization (30.2%).

Results were adjusted for many different covariates, including sex, age, smoking, MS clinical course (relapsing, progressive), disease duration, ambulation, individual comorbidities (cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, hypertension, morbid obesity), and disease-modifying therapy use.

In multivariable logistic regression analyses, older age, having chronic renal disease, and being nonambulatory were consistently associated with increased odds of poorer outcomes. Chronic kidney disease had the strongest association with mortality (odds ratio, 28.6; P < .001). Other factors associated with mortality included cardiovascular disease (OR, 4.35; P = .009); age (OR per 10 years, 1.91; P = .012), and male sex (OR, 2.60; P = .041).

Patients who were nonambulatory had a higher risk of mortality/ICU admission/hospitalization (OR, 3.32; P = .003). This endpoint was also increased in patients on anti-CD20 drugs, compared with other disease-modifying treatment (OR, 2.31; P = .002), consistent with results from at least two other studies.

Disease-modifying therapy in general was not associated with an increased risk of worse outcomes. “There was some concern at the outset about the effect of disease-modifying therapies on COVID-19 outcomes, but most studies have not found an increased risk of worse outcomes in patients on such drug treatments, with the possible exception of anti-CD20 drugs,” Dr. Salter said.

“Some disease-modifying therapies may actually be protective (particularly interferon) and studies are investigating whether they may have a role in the treatment of COVID-19,” she added.

“The factors in MS patients that we and others have found to be associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes may not be specific to MS. Older age is known to be a primary risk factor for worse COVID-19 outcomes in the general population, and increasing disability presumably tracks with worse general heath,” Dr. Salter commented.

“I would say the overall data are fairly reassuring for MS patents,” she concluded.


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