COVID update: what to do if you get COVID

With community transmission increasing as a result of the Omicron variant, we thought you'd like some information on what to do if you test positive for COVID. So we put together a video Q&A to help you navigate the latest information and advice (see above). 

In this video Associate Professor Anneke Van Der Walt, Clinical Nurse Louise Rath and our Executive Manager Client Engagement and Wellbeing, Jodi Haartsen discuss what you need to know if you're a person living with MS and you test positive for COVID, including treatment options (it's important to note you may not require treatment). Alternatively you can read the frequently asked questions below.

Please note - the information provided in the video and the frequently asked questions below was correct at the time of publication, however information is frequently changing. For the latest advice visit the ACT, NSW, Tas or Vic Health websites. Alternatively MS Australia also provides up-to-date general advice about COVID, vaccinations and MS.

What should I do to prepare in case I get COVID?

Below are some simple tips to consider preparing in case you get COVID.

Be as healthy as possible, mentally and physically. 

Eating well, keeping fluids up and looking after your mental and physical health is more important now than ever. We have lots of information on our website to help with this, visit our webinar library.

Know the symptoms of COVID

  • Common symptoms are fever, cough, tiredness, loss of taste or smell.
  • Less common symptoms are sore throat, headache, aches and pains, diarrhoea, a rash on skin or discolouration of fingers or toes, red or irritated eyes.
  • Serious symptoms are difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, loss of speech or mobility, confusion, chest pain, extremely high heart rate (staying at or above 120 beats per minute), fainting, little or no urine output, coughing up blood.

Seek immediate medical attention if you have serious symptoms. People with mild symptoms who are otherwise well can manage their symptoms at home.  

On average it takes 5–6 days from when someone is infected with the virus for symptoms to show, however it can take up to 14 days.  

Understand how and where to get tested for COVID

Many Australians have had a COVID test by now. There are two types of tests available; a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR test) completed by a trained health care provider. There is also a self-administered rapid antigen test (commonly called RAT test) that you can do yourself.

A PCR test takes approximately one minute and involves taking a sample swab from the back of the throat and nose. It can be uncomfortable but it is not painful. For some people with MS and swallowing problems, it can be particularly uncomfortable. Having a PCR test is no longer a requirement in most Australian states, and the at home RAT tests are often chosen when you can access one.

If you have not had a test, or feel anxious about tests, you may like to talk it over with one of our MS nurses for some tips on how to cope with the tests. Most people with MS have mastered strategies for getting through an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), so a good tip might be to use the same skills you have to prepare for the noisy tunnel.

Accessing testing for COVID has been a huge challenge for all Australians over the last few months. Many States have priority access for people with disabilities or who are vulnerable. Below are the COVID hotlines you can call for information about this:
  • ACT 02 6207 7244
  • NSW 1800 020 080
  • Victoria 1800 675 398
  • Tasmania 1800 671 738  
Many testing sites are improving services and as a result waiting times are being reduced.  

In Victoria, a call-to-test service is available for people to have testing in their homes (Melbourne only) if they are not able to leave. This needs to be arranged through a GP (General Practitioner) referral. To access the call-to-test service call the Victorian COVID-19 hotline on 1800 675 398 and select option nine.  

In NSW, ACT and Tasmania services for in-home testing can be arranged through your GP. Support for funding for RAT tests is being considered nationally and through NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme). If you would like information about this funding, please contact MS Connect or your NDIS provider.  

If you can buy a RAT test to have at home, ideally try and get at least two per person in the household; one to establish whether there is an infection and another to follow up with later in the isolation period. 

Plan to stay home and isolate

We're all getting rather good at planning for isolation! But here are some things you might like to consider if you are at home with COVID and feeling unwell. 
  • Write a list of what would need to be done if you were to isolate and who may be able to help.
  • Organise essential phone numbers, including your state-based COVID hotline, GP, neurologist, or MS Clinic. 
  • You may be eligible for treatment, watch the video above for more information on what to do to access it.
  • Make a plan to notify close contacts.
  • Consider whether you'll require financial support. Consider reviewing the eligibility for isolation payments or whether you can put some money aside in case you need it.
  • You may need to delegate your responsibilities or caring roles to other people. Do you have a partner, children, or pets that you care for? Can you ask someone else to help?
  • If you have an NDIS package, consider what services you will be able to continue and which you'll need to cancel during isolation.
  • Event if you have a support network, your friends or family may also have COVID and be unable to provide support or supplies. 
  • Organise a two-week supply of any regular medication and essential food items.
  • Consider local delivery services for essential items like Uber Eats, Door Dash or other local businesses who can deliver.
  • Don’t forget activities to keep you entertained through the isolation period.
The following can help to ensure good at-home hygiene while isolating.
  • Have enough hand sanitiser, hand soap and disinfecting wipes available.
  • Decide as a household what you will do if someone tests positive. This could include using separate bathrooms, arranging meals and cleaning between contact in shared areas.
  • Ensure good ventilation by opening doors and windows as much as possible.
When preparing to isolate, stocking up on your first aid kit can help to monitor and manage symptoms of COVID. You may want to consider:
  • Icy poles for sore throat 
  • Thermometer to monitor fever 
  • Electrolyte replacement drinks in case of diarrhoea 
  • Paracetamol (Panadol) to help with fever and aches and pains 
  • Ibuprofen (Nurofen) to help with fever and aches and pains 
  • Pulse oximeter to monitor oxygen levels. 

What do I do if I have COVID?

Follow the action plan you have prepared. Knowing you have a plan and putting it into action can help you to avoid feeling stressed. It can be hard to think clearly and know what to do when you're unwell and feeling anxious. Below are some more tips for what to do if you think you may have COVID.
  • Isolate for seven days.
  • If you haven't been tested get a PCR or a RAT and report your positive test result.
  • If you can't access either test, stay isolated while you're symptomatic and get a test when you can. If you're feeling really unwell, call your doctor.
  • Rest when you need to as fatigue is a common symptom of COVID and may be worse with MS.
  • Treat your symptoms (Panadol/Nurofen for fever and pain, lots of fluids to keep hydrated).
  • Ensure your family and friends are aware you have tested positive and are unwell, so they can assist you.
  • When you test positive, call your GP or neurologist as you may be eligible for treatment for COVID.
  • Continue with your normal medications. If you are on an infusion-based medication, it may be best to delay treatment until your symptoms have resolved – check with your neurologist or MS nurse.
  • Be aware that while you are experiencing symptoms of COVID, your MS symptoms may also flare. This does not mean that you are having a relapse, and hopefully things will settle as your COVID symptoms also settle.
There is a guide sheet from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners that can help you to manage your symptoms. Download the guide sheet.

Will having COVID make my MS symptoms worse?

If you have MS and get COVID, the way your body deals with the infection (for example a fever) can cause a temporary worsening of MS symptoms. Once you have recovered from the infection, your MS symptoms will settle down.  

Although unlikely, a more severe infection could potentially trigger a relapse.

What do I do if I think I'm having an MS relapse?

There are a few self-check questions that may help. Consider these questions to help you decide whether you are having a relapse or your MS symptoms are worse from COVID-19.
  • Have I had these symptoms before?  
  • Do these symptoms usually flare up when I am stressed or unwell? 
  • Do I have COVID-19 symptoms? 
  • Are my symptoms getting worse every day? 
  • What do usually do when I have a relapse?  
Try and contact your neurologist or MS Clinic. Follow the same plan you normally would if you thought you were having a relapse.

It almost always helps to talk it though with someone. If you are not able to contact your MS Nurse or the MS Nurses via MS connect, you could try talking it through with a trusted friend who is usually sensible and calm and knows you well 

Remember rest is always good for relapses and most MS relapses do not need you to go to emergency department.

If I have COVID, when should I go to the hospital?

You should go to the hospital if you need care for essential activities of daily living that you are not able to manage with support at home, if you have severe symptoms as listed above or if you're advised to go to hospital by a healthcare professional.  

Is there any access to specialised healthcare for people with MS who have COVID?

People living with MS are recognised as needing extra support if they get COVID and there are programs coordinated through your state or territory health department. 

It differs across each state or territory. Most programs are run by nurses and doctors who offer access to extra support based on your needs. The way to access these programs can be different, although it is generally activated once people receive a text message notifying them that they are positive for COVID. If you test positive using a RAT at home, then you will receive a text message after you report your positive result to the relevant authority.  

‘COVID@home’ program is accessed once a person has tested positive and receives the text or it can be accessed by the GP.    

‘COVID Positive Pathways’ program is delivered by Victorian hospitals, community health services, GPs and other providers.  If your COVID-19 test result is positive, you will receive several text messages confirming your diagnosis and asking about your general health. One of these will include a link to a short survey to assess your care needs.  

New South Wales 
‘Care at Home’ is accessed via the Care at Home Support Line on 1800 960 933 (8:30am to 8:30pm). People who test positive for COVID-19 receive a questionnaire via text message to complete and can access the program through this pathway. 

Australian Capital Territory  
‘COVID-19 Care @ Home' program can be accessed when you receive notification of a positive COVID test or through your GP.

This access pathway is also changing regularly across all states, so we encourage anyone who needs this information to give us a call at MS Connect. 

Is there any treatment for COVID for people with MS?

Yes, there are a couple of treatments available. Some are given as an outpatient to prevent you from needing to go to hospital and others are given once a person is hospitalised with COVID-19. Not all people with MS will be eligible for these treatments. 

How do I access information about these treatments?  
  • Your MS Clinic 
  • Your GP  
  • From the specialised care programs and pathways.

Should I still have a third-dose or booster dose if I have had COVID?

People who have had COVID can be vaccinated. Vaccination can be deferred for up to six months as past infection reduces the chance of reinfection for at least this amount of time. You should delay vaccination until you have recovered from the acute illness. If a patient tests positive between their first and second doses, or between their second and booster dose, the patient should delay next dose until they have recovered from the acute illness. People with prolonged symptoms from COVID-19 beyond six-months should be vaccinated on a case-by-case basis. 

Third primary dose
  • Severely immunocompromised individuals aged 12 and over are recommended to receive a third dose as part of their primary course. This dose is intended to address the risk of suboptimal or non-response to the standard two dose schedule. 
  • For MS: those on Ocrevus®, Kesimpta®, Gilenya®, Mayzent®, Zeposia® or Mavenclad® it is recommended to have a third primary dose of a COVID vaccine recommended between two to six months after the second vaccine.
  • There may be timing considerations with the vaccine and your disease modifying therapy, so check with your MS Clinic or neurologist.
  • Pfizer or Moderna is preferred.
If you have received three primary doses, it is also recommended that you have a booster dose in line with the timing for the general population. From 4 January 2022, the interval will be four months after your primary course, and three months when practical. 
  • Studies show that the immunity created by COVID-19 vaccines begins to wane over time. 
  • A booster dose strengthens your immune system and helps to maintain a high level of protection against serious illness from the COVID-19 virus. 

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