Ibuprofen and coronavirus: what is the connection — if any — according to health experts

March 24, 2020

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This photo shows tablets of ibuprofen in New York. — AP
This photo shows tablets of ibuprofen in New York. — AP

As the coronavirus spreads around the world, so does the news about the pandemic — some real, some fake, and some unclear. Recently, there has been chatter about the use of ibuprofen and how people should avoid using it.

But where exactly did the worries over the use of ibuprofen surface?

In mid-March, France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, 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.

According to The Guardian, French patients have been forced to consult pharmacies since mid-January if they want to buy popular painkillers, including ibuprofen, paracetamol and aspirin, to be reminded of the risks.

Many people on social media appeared to have "a doctor in the family" with inside information. Photo courtesy BBC
Many people on social media appeared to have "a doctor in the family" with inside information. Photo courtesy BBC

Other tweets are also being shared, reported the BBC last week, including one saying that ibuprofen "may cause severe cases of the disease, even in young and middle-aged adults with no underlying conditions" which has been shared more than 94,000 times on Twitter.

Some of the posts go on to claim that coronavirus "thrives on ibuprofen" but there is no evidence that this is the case, added BBC.

There is no research to back up the contention, said a New York Times article titled 'Is ibuprofen really risky for coronavirus patients?'.

“No data,” said Dr Michele Barry, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University. There is no reason to think that infected patients should avoid temporary use of ibuprofen, she was quoted as saying by NYT.

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”.

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.

Link between ibuprofen and Covid-19

Both paracetamol and ibuprofen can bring a temperature down and help with flu-like symptoms. But ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not suitable for everyone and can cause side-effects — especially for people with asthma, heart and circulatory problems, BBC said in its report.

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 theorised that those drugs might make it easier for the coronavirus to infect cells, according to the Associated Press.

The UK's National Health Service (NHS) said that while "there is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (Covid-19) worse, until we have more information take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you".

Those currently advised to use ibuprofen by their healthcare professional should not stop using them.

'No evidence ibuprofen worsens coronavirus'

According to an Associated Press article, 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 last 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 UN 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.

The US Food and Drug Administration also weighed in on Thursday, 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.

Evolving situation

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. It noted that most European countries recommend paracetamol (acetaminophen) as a first treatment option for fever or pain.