March 20 (UPI) — Older adults with severe disability due to multiple sclerosis are 25 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those with more mild forms of the neurological disorder, a study published Friday by JAMA Neurology found.
These same patients with multiple sclerosis are up to four times as likely to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms and require hospital care after getting infected with the virus, the data showed.
In addition, MS patients treated with corticosteroids like prednisone — a common class of drugs used in people with the condition — are three times as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and four times as likely to die from the disease compared to those who do not use these medications.
Similarly, those treated with rituximab — a man-made antibody therapy marked under the brand name Rituxan and used in the treatment of autoimmune disorders such as MS — are nearly five times as likely to develop severe COVID-19 and up to three times as likely to die from it compared to people not on the drug.
“Our study identified some MS-specific risk factors, such as ambulatory disability, treatment with rituximab and recent corticosteroid use, that are associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes,” study co-author Amber Salter told UPI in an email.
“Adhering to the public health recommendations such as wearing a mask, social distancing, etc., are important for individuals with MS to reduce their risk of COVID-19,” said Salter, an assistant professor of biostatistics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
More than 1 million people in the United States have MS, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks cells in the brain and spinal cord in error, according to the National MS Society.
To date, approximately 2,500 cases of COVID-19 in people with MS or a closely related disorder nationally have been reported to the COVID-19 Infections in MS Registry, a national database tracking the virus among those with MS.
Of these, the vast majority have recovered, though only 83 never developed symptoms, the registry reports. Seventy-three of the cases reported to the registry have died.
For this study, Salter and her colleagues analyzed data on just over 1,600 cases of COVID-19 among adults with MS reported to the registry.
The patients in these cases ranged from age 34 to 60, and roughly half had other chronic health conditions in addition to MS, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity, or they were severely overweight.
Just over 3% of the MS patients in the study died from COVID-19.
MS patients in the study who walked with assistance were twice as likely to require hospital care and twice as likely to die after getting infected with the virus, compared with those who were fully ambulatory.
Those with MS who were not ambulatory, or required a wheelchair, were three times as likely to need hospital care and 25 times more likely to die after contracting COVID-19.
In addition, MS patients in the study who were also obese were 69% more likely to need hospital care and 2.5 times more likely to die after getting infected with the coronavirus.
Despite the risk for more severe COVID-19 associated with MS medications such as rituximab and corticosteroids, “individuals should consult with their physician before making any changes specific their MS care,” Salter said.