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 1st March – 31st 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.


This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Cite as

Fernandes, P., O'Neill, M., Kearns, P., Pizzo, S., Watters, C., Baird, S., MacDougall, N. & Hunt, D. 2020, 'Impact of the first COVID-19 pandemic wave on the Scottish Multiple Sclerosis Register population', Wellcome Open research, 5, article no: 276. https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16349.1

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Last updated: 29 October 2022
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