Are people with motor neurone disease at a higher risk of coronavirus? Here’s what you should know

Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 2:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th March 2020, 2:50 pm
This is what you need to know about how coronavirus affects those with MND (Photo: Shutterstock)

As the Covid-19 strain of the coronavirus continues to spread, it’s clear that some members of the public are more vulnerable and at a higher risk of experiencing serious health issues if they catch the virus.

This is what you need to know if your or a loved one has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

Are people with MND at more risk?

After it was reported that a man with motor neurone disease (MND) in the UK passed away after contracting the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus, concerns about the extra health risks for those with MND have been growing.

The Motor Neuron Disease Association said: “Having taken advice from neurologists and specialists working in our care network, it is clear that people with MND fall into the group for whom coronavirus could be particularly dangerous.”

On 16 March, the government released some guidance on social distancing in order to protect older people and vulnerable adults.

In those guidelines, it said: “We are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.”

The group included in the “increased risk” category included people with chronic neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and people with motor neurone disease.

What should people with MND do to avoid catching coronavirus?

The government stated that everyone should be following social distancing measures to keep safe, but “strongly advise” those over 70, or those with an underlying health condition or women who are pregnant, to “significantly limit face-to-face interaction with friends and family, if possible”.

Included in the social distancing advice was:

- Avoid contact with anyone with symptoms of Covid-19- Avoid non-essential use of public transport- Work from home if possible- Avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as cinemas, restaurants, bars etcUse telephone or other online services to contact your GP

You should also be washing your hands more often and for longer periods, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home.

What is motor neurone disease?

The NHS describes MND as an “uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves” which causes “weakness that gets worse over time”.

Symptoms of MND come on gradually and might not be obvious at first, but early symptoms can include:

- Weakness in your ankle or leg - you might find that you trip up, or find it more difficult to climb stairs- Slurred speech, which could develop into difficulty swallowing food- Weak grip, so you could find it harder to open jars, or you might drop things more- Muscle cramps and twitches- Weight loss

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of the 12 March the Government has moved into the "delay" phase of its plan to tackle coronavirus. Advice is that anyone with a continuous cough or high temperature should self-isolate for seven days. People over 70 have been advised not to go on cruises and schools advised to cancel trips abroad, though schools remain open.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.