Young woman with MS with a cold/case of flu

MS is often referred to as an auto-immune condition. Does this mean that as a person with MS my immune system is compromised, and I am susceptible to cold and flu?

Our helpline team set the record straight

Our immune systems develop and evolve throughout our lives and can be divided into two elements.

The innate immune system is made up of our skin, mucous membranes, cells, and proteins which act as our body’s first line of defence against germs and other substances that may be harmful to us. The adaptive/acquired immune system is the other element and is made up of antibodies in our blood and other fluids, plus B and T lymphocytes that are found in tissue that sits between our body’s cells.

These constituent parts of our immune systems work in isolation and collaboratively to protect us from attacks by infections, colds, and viruses, also helping us to recover should we become infected.

There are over 200 different viruses that can cause colds, plus four types of influenza virus and they will affect each one of us differently in terms of severity and longevity. This is mainly due to the individual makeup of our innate and adaptive immune systems. When a virus attacks us, our body’s immune system reacts by creating proteins and antibodies to fight it. It follows that people who have compromised immune systems will be more susceptible to picking up viruses and infections, also experiencing more difficulty in fighting them off.

For people with MS this is generally not an issue as the immune system is not necessarily weakened, meaning the ability to fight off viruses is usually not affected. There are caveats though, such as when taking a disease modifying therapy which works by supressing the immune system, whilst undergoing HSCT treatment and also being affected by other conditions that leave us immunocompromised.

Whatever our health situation, by taking basic precautionary measures, such as washing our hands prior to touching food we are about to prepare or consume, and covering our noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing, we can help protect ourselves and others from exposure to cold and flu viruses.

Do you have a question for our helpline team? Call weekdays 10am-4pm free on 0800 783 0518, WhatsApp 07824708897 or email