Whilst Covid-19 is another kind of flu, and it’s likely that you’ve had a coronavirus flu in the past, it is significantly more serious than what you would consider the seasonal flu. The seasonal flu typically kills 0.1% of those it infects each year, Covid-19 is currently killing around 1% of those it is infecting, meaning Covid-19 is 10 times worse than the seasonal flu. As it stands we don’t have a vaccine for Covid-19 and no way to effectively treat the disease. It is spreading quickly, asymptomatically, and has the potential to cripple our economy as well as impact those we care about. I could dive deeply into the science and statistics behind Covid-19 but what I want to focus on is what we can do to decrease our risk, to decrease our community risk, and how it relates to those of us taking disease-modifying drugs.

There is plenty of information out there, and misinformation out there, about how best to deal with Covid-19. I want to reiterate some of the important guidelines to keep you safe, and first and foremost it is hygiene. I know that everyone thinks they know how to wash their hands, or they say they always wash their hands but the truth is most people don’t. I don’t want to point fingers or call people gross, instead I want us as a community to make this a priority moving forward. Washing your hands is one of the easiest and most effective way to prevent the spread of viruses and is completely within your control. You need to wash your hands regularly, and when you are in a situation where you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, that’s when you would opt for using hand sanitiser. Try to avoid touching your face or eating until you are able to clean your hands. For those of us who are a little more at risk this is particularly important, especially if, like me, you need to travel to work by public transport, dramatically increasing your potential exposure on a daily basis.

Follow these five steps every time;

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If someone starts coughing or sneezing near you, don’t treat them with disdain. Instead, simply move away from them if you can, or remind them to cough or sneeze into their elbow and a tissue they can immediately dispose of in a closed bin. This is not a time for us to turn on one another, or become scared of one another.

If you can avoid crowds for now, try to, if you can travel off-peak, try to. Something as simple as not standing as close to someone whilst talking is helpful (<1m increases the chances of a virus making it on to your body). This isn’t being fearful, this is trying to be the most effective in diminishing the capacity of this virus to spread. If we can decrease the rate at which this virus is reproducing, that is the rate at which it is spreading to and infecting new people, we have a better chance at controlling it – washing your hands and steering clear of crowds can help to do that.

If you do have Covid-19 keep maintaining high levels of hygiene; cough or sneeze into your elbow, wipe down surfaces you touch, throw away tissues as soon as you use them, and don’t worry about face masks as they are often ineffective or worn in such a way as to render them useless. Avoid big groups if you can, if you can work from home, if you can take time off, do it. Limit your interaction with others for the sake of everybody. Ensure you get a definitive diagnosis and let everyone you have come into contact with over the last couple of weeks know about what’s happening so they can get themselves checked.

If you are on disease-modifying drugs, don’t stop! Talk to your neurologist and GP to get their recommendations for your individual situation but it is highly unlikely they will tell you to stop your current therapy. Thankfully most kinds of immunosupressors used for MS are relatively mild, meaning most of us can combat infections relatively well especially if you’ve been taking care of yourself. However, if you are concerned, if you are showing any symptoms of the flu – fever, tiredness (hah! That’s MS in general!), and dry cough, get in touch with your neurologist and GP as soon as you can to talk through your options. Each of us is impacted differently and need to be assessed individually so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask.

If you think you have Covid-19, call ahead to your GP and find out from them how they wish you to proceed in order to get you checked. There is no benefit to turning up to a packed waiting room with potentially severely compromised people around in terms of controlling this virus. The practice you attend will have a plan on how they wish to handle it, so give them a call, protect yourself and protect your community. You can also call healthdirect for advice on 1800 022 222 if you’re unsure what to do.

Lastly, don’t panic, but be realistic. This virus will have a significant impact on our economy, it will have a significant impact globally. It is entirely likely that by the end of the year someone you love will be impacted by this virus. Take care of those at risk in your family and community, particularly older members of your community who have other serious health conditions. Practice common sense, and compassion, and above all wash your hands.

For up-to-date information check out the World Health Organisation or the Center for Disease Control, whilst their advice may not be region specific to where you are living, their advice is relevant. This google document is also a great simplified source of relevant and scientific information. For your particular area listen to your local ABC radio station and get in touch with the council for any updates relevant to you and your community.

For people with MS, your relevant MS society will have updates, as MS Australia does, Overcoming MS, etc. Be vigilant with your health, check for updates, and take care of yourself and loved ones. Remember, we are a community, in order to stop the progression, to decrease the impact and loss of life we need to band together and work for the common good. We’re all in this together.


  1. I have considered whether the immune system modifier Gilenya would reduce the defence against the virus.
    You say the ms medicine does not reduce immunity but
    Is this true for Gilenya?

    • Hi Dave,
      Most of the disease modifying therapies we are on put us at a slightly increased risk when it comes to defence against the virus as they impact the way our immune system works, so they do reduce our immune system function to a degree.

      For Gilenya, the statement is that it can increase your risk of a more serious infection when it comes to viruses, including Covid-19. The thing to consider is that the risk of stopping treatment with Gilenya is a rebound of disease activity that outweighs the risk of the virus. However, if you are concerned you should talk to your neurologist.

      All the MS websites I’ve searched worldwide say the same things; we’re at a slightly increased risk so stay safe – wash hands with soap (the soap destroys that fat surrounding the virus, killing it in the process), avoid the sick, and if you’re concerned or have been in contact with someone with the virus see you neurologist and GP immediately.

      For more info on Gilenya, this is one of the websites I got my information from;

      Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. Eliza

  2. very much enjoyed this article full of factual and practical information. Thank you for informing us with just clear information.

    • Thanks, Betty. I get my information primarily from the WHO, they have been updating their advice regularly and have always had a consistent message. It’s a shame that there is so much misinformation out there about it, I’m sure people are simply scared and will share things they believe to be true, but it’s resulting in a lot of panic and unnecessary behaviour. The WHO have been a consistent and reassuring platform for advice on how to protect ourselves and others, so I turn to them during something like this.

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