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March 16, 2020

Ibuprofen could 'aggravate' coronavirus, French health minister says

In the U.S., NIH's National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases says there is no such evidence

Prevention Coronavirus
Ibuprofen COVID-19 coronavirus Vnukko/Pixabay

Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs may 'aggravate' coronavirus, according to French health officials. They instead advise COVID-19 patients to take acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol. Some studies that suggest that ibuprofen could suppress the immune system, though there is no research on its effects on COVID-19.

French health officials are warning against the use of ibuprofen to alleviate coronavirus symptoms, claiming the anti-inflammatory pain medicine could potentially worsen COVID-19.

The French government has reported "serious adverse events" among patients diagnosed with COVID-19 who have taken non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like include ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. Advil and Motrin are two examples on ibuprofen medications.

"Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone …) could be an aggravating factor of the infection," Olivier Veran, France's health minister, tweeted on Saturday. "If you have a fever, take Paracetamol. If you are already on anti-inflammatory drugs or in doubt, ask your doctor for advice."

Paracetamol is also known as acetaminophen. It is a pain reliever and fever reduce, and it is sold under the brand Tylenol, among others.

In 2019, the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products investigated non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – or NSAIDs – and their effects on severe infections. The agency says its researchers found that the anti-inflammatory drugs aggravated the patients' infections. 

Not everyone agrees with the French health officials.

"More research is needed to evaluate reports that ibuprofen may affect the course of COVID-19," the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases – part of the National Institutes of Health – told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. "Currently, there is no evidence that ibuprofen increases the risk of serious complications or of acquiring the virus that causes COVID-19," adding there was "no conclusive evidence" ibuprofen can cause adverse side effects in other respiratory illnesses.

  • SYMPTOMS: Coronavirus vs. Other respiratory illnesses
      • Fever, cough, shortness of breath
      • Itchy eyes, stuffy nose, sneezing
      • Fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, chills, headache and possibly sneezing, stuffy nose and a sore throat
      • Sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat and possibly coughing, slight aches, fatigue, fever
  • Anyone with coronavirus symptoms should stay home and call their doctor. More information can be found on the CDC's website. Philly residents can text "COVIDPHL" to 888777 for updates on the coronavirus, and anyone in Greater Philadelphia can call the coronavirus hotline at 800-722-7112.

NSAIDs treat an array of issues, from headaches to arthritis to common cold symptoms, such as fever and sore throat. But it's the anti-inflammatory properties of the medicine that can suppress the immune system, Ian Jones, a professor of virology at University of Reading told The British Medical Journal.

"For COVID-19, research is needed into the effects of specific NSAIDs among people with different underlying health conditions," Charlotte Warren-Gash, an epidemiology professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BMJ. "In the meantime, for treating symptoms such as fever and sore throat, it seems sensible to stick to paracetamol as first choice."

More than 218,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide and more than 8,792 people have died from the illness, through Wednesday. In France, there have been more 9,000 cases and 148 deaths.

In the United States, more than 9,300 cases have been reported, including at least 137 deaths. There have been 155 reported in Pennsylvania, with more than 30 cases confirmed in Montgomery County. New Jersey, which reported its second death on Sunday, has 427 cases.

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