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Coronavirus and epilepsy

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting on many countries including Australia and is occupying a lot of time in the news.  On 11 March, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak to be a pandemic. You’re not alone if you’re feeling worried about it and what it means for you and your family.

The coronavirus attacks the respiratory system.  Most people infected with the viral illness will only have mild to moderate symptoms, however it can be severe and life threatening, particularly for the elderly with an underlying health condition.

We are receiving calls from people who are understandably worried that epilepsy may place them at higher risk of developing coronavirus. 

Epilepsy is a term given to many different disorders that lead to seizures.  Some people will have easily controlled seizures, have no other health problems, and become seizure-free on medication.  Or they may have epilepsy with occasional seizures but no other health problems.  For these people the available data suggests that just having epilepsy alone

  • Does not increase the risk of getting coronavirus and
  • Does not increase the severity of coronavirus

Some people with epilepsy regardless of seizure control have other health conditions that put them at higher risk from coronavirus.

  • They may be taking medicines to control seizures that also affect their immune system (for example, ACTH, steroids, immunotherapies).  Or they may have other neurological or developmental issues that affect their immunity.  People in these situations are at greater risk of developing more severe symptoms with viral illnesses.
  • People with epilepsy may have other medical problems that could place them at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms with coronavirus.
    • For example, people who have problems swallowing or frequently inhale food or liquid into their lungs (aspiration) are at higher risk for pneumonia
    • People with diabetes or underlying heart or lung problems also appear to be at higher risk for severe coronavirus.

Regardless of your situation, it is important for anyone with epilepsy to talk to their treating doctor about their individual risks and if any specific medical precautions are needed.Take precautions to avoid getting sick too.

Can coronavirus increase seizures if a person gets the virus?

When a person with epilepsy gets sick with another illness, especially with a high temperature, they may notice a change or increase in their seizures.

  • The illness is a physical and emotional stressor to the body that could make seizures more likely.  The same happens with coronavirus.
  • Other triggers may include
    • Not eating or drinking normally
    • Not being able to take medications regularly (for example, if vomiting is a problem)
    • Not being able to sleep well
  • Worry and anxiety about seizures and coronavirus may affect people.

Preliminary information from countries where outbreaks have occurred suggests that the risk of worsening seizures with coronavirus appears to be low for most people with epilepsy.

What should be done if seizures change or increase?

If you or a loved one develop coronavirus and notice changes in seizures, contact your GP and neurologist.

Just like any other time, if you or a loved one have an emergency such as seizures lasting too long or more seizures than usual, seek emergency help.

What to do to avoid catching coronavirus?

  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds
  • When you can’t wash your hands, use a sanitiser
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you are sick and call your doctor first, before going into their clinic
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the bin
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

Preparing for any emergency

Preparing for potential emergencies is part of life for all of us.

  • Talk to your pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of prescription medicines
  • Don’t leave it until the last minute to get a new prescription from your doctor
  • If you will need a new prescription in a few weeks, get it early
  • Keep your Epilepsy Management Plan up to date – you can ask Epilepsy Queensland to help you with this
  • Keep a phone and any electronic devices charged that you may need for medication reminders or for calling family or emergency responders.

Call our friendly Services team if you have more questions on 07 3435 5000.  Keep up to date with the advice from the Department of Health

The primary source of this information is