Health agencies: No evidence ibuprofen worsens coronavirus

This Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 photo shows tablets of ibuprofen in New York. In late March 2020, the World Health Organization and other leading agencies say there is no evidence to support the suggestion that taking ibuprofen might worsen the symptoms of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)
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The World Health Organization and other leading agencies say there is no evidence to support the suggestion that ibuprofen might worsen the symptoms of COVID-19.

WHO said earlier this week that it did a quick review and found no published research or data on the issue. It also checked with doctors treating coronavirus patients.

The U.N. health agency said it was “not aware of reports of any negative effects of ibuprofen, beyond the usual known side effects.” It added that it was not recommending against using ibuprofen for the treatment of fever in people with COVID-19.

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also weighed in, stating that it was not aware of any evidence that taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen could be harmful for people infected with the new coronavirus. Ibuprofen is sold under the brand names Advin, Motrin, Nurofen and others.

The agencies were responding to a tweet last weekend from France’s health minister, who said people who think they have COVID-19 should not take ibuprofen. Olivier Veran suggested those with a fever take paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen and sold under names such as Panadol, Calpol, and Tylenol.

Veran said anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and cortisone could potentially worsen a coronavirus infection and that patients should consult their doctor if they were already taking the drug.

The warning soon picked up traction on social media but was quickly questioned by major health agencies and regulators. The potential link between non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and COVID-19 was raised in a letter published earlier this month in the journal Lancet, where doctors theorized that those drugs might make it easier for the coronavirus to infect cells.

The European Medicines Agency said it was monitoring the situation closely. The agency said when treating fever or pain in COVID-19, all available treatment options should be considered, including paracetamol and (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen), the European regulator said this week. It noted that most European countries recommend paracetamol (acetaminophen) as a first treatment option for fever or pain.

In a letter published online in the journal Science, Garret A. FitzGerald of Kings Health Partners in London and others labeled the French health minister’s tweet as “misguided drug advice.” They wrote that people taking drugs like ibuprofen for other reasons “should not stop doing so for fear of increasing their COVID-19 risk.”

On Friday, Dr. Jerome Salomon, head of France’s public health agency, said the warning about ibuprofen pertained to self-medication, and that people should seek the advice of their doctor before taking medications if coronavirus is suspected.

The majority of people with the coronavirus only experience mild symptoms like a fever, dry cough and fatigue, and recover. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.