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Impact of the first COVID-19 pandemic wave on the Scottish Multiple Sclerosis Register population

  • Fernandes, Peter M.1
  • O'Neill, Martin2
  • Kearns, Patrick K.A.1, 3
  • Pizzo, Sinforosa2
  • Watters, Chrissie2
  • Baird, Stuart2
  • MacDougall, Niall J.J.2, 4
  • Hunt, David P.J.1, 5
  • 1 Anne Rowling Clinic, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  • 2 Clinical & Protecting Health Directorate, Public Health Scotland, Edinburgh, UK
  • 3 Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  • 4 Institute of Neurological Sciences, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Glasgow, UK
  • 5 UK Dementia Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
Published Article
Wellcome Open Research
F1000 Research Limited
Publication Date
Nov 25, 2020
DOI: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16349.1
PMID: 33585703
PMCID: PMC7848856
PubMed Central
  • Articles


Background : The impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on people with multiple sclerosis (MS) is a major current concern, in particular the risk of death. Here we describe the impact of the first wave of COVID-19 infections (Mar 2020-July 2020) on the Scottish MS Register (SMSR) population, a cohort of 4702 individuals with MS, all newly diagnosed in the past decade. Methods : We established a clinician alert system, linking the SMSR with the Electronic Communication of Surveillance in Scotland (ECOSS). This allows identification of patients within this cohort who had a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test. The SMSR was also linked to death records from National Records Scotland. Results : Of 4702 people with MS, 246 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) PCR tests were performed, of which 17 were positive. The proportion of positive tests were similar to the general Scotland population (Observed PCR confirmed cases = 17, expected = 17.5, O/E = 0.97, 95% CI: 0.60 – 1.56, p =.90). Between 1 st March – 31 st July 2020 12 individuals on the SMSR died, 5 of which were linked to COVID-19 (1 PCR confirmed, 4 clinical diagnoses without PCR confirmation). This number of COVID-19-related deaths was higher than expected (observed deaths = 5, expected deaths = 1.2, O/E = 4.03, 95% CI = 1.48 – 8.94, p =.01). All COVID-19-related deaths in the SMSR occurred in individuals with advanced disability (Expanded Disability Status Scale ≥7), and no deaths occurred in patients receiving disease modifying therapy (DMT) therapies. Conclusion : In this nationally comprehensive cohort of MS patients diagnosed in Scotland within the past 10 years, we observed similar rates of PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to the general Scottish population, but a small number of excess COVID-19 related deaths. These deaths occurred in individuals with advanced disability who were not receiving DMTs.

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