Does Taking Ibuprofen Make Coronavirus Worse? Here's What Experts Have to Say
Experts agree that more research is needed, but that it is best to opt for paracetamols like Tylenol for now
Health experts are weighing in amid rumors that ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medication may worsen the infection of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Saturday, France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran tweeted that “taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone, …) could be a factor in worsening the infection” in regard to the coronavirus and urged those with a fever to take paracetamol, or Tylenol, instead.
“If you are already on anti-inflammatory drugs or in doubt, ask your doctor for advice,” Véran added.
Véran’s advice has led other researchers to dig into the accuracy of the study, with mixed results. While most agree that further research is needed, several international health experts said that it would not be surprising, based on past coronaviruses like SARS.
A new report from the journal BMJ found that scientists and doctors backed the French study. Paul Little, a professor of primary care research at the University of Southampton in the U.K., said “that prolonged illness or the complications of respiratory infections may be more common when NSAIDs [Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] are used.”
And Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, agreed that anti-inflammatories could “dampen down” the immune system, making it harder for it to fight COVID-19. He added that the enzyme issue that Véran noted had also come up when anti-inflammatories were used during the SARS epidemic.
Other experts said more research is needed. Charlotte Warren-Gash, associate professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that “for COVID-19, research is needed into the effects of specific NSAIDs among people with different underlying health conditions. In the meantime, for treating symptoms such as fever and sore throat, it seems sensible to stick to paracetamol as first choice.”
Two experts PEOPLE spoke with, Dr. Robert A. Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University, and Dr. William Haseltine, infectious disease expert and Chair and President of ACCESS Health International, both said that the would want to see a controlled study before warning against the use of anti-inflammatories.
“I have not seen any data on this,” Norton tells PEOPLE. “The high fever that is associated with the virus is medically serious. High fever can be life-threatening.”
“Individuals experiencing high fever need to immediately contact their medical provider and assiduously follow their guidance,” he continues.
Haseltine echoed his sentiments, noting that he hasn’t seen any data on the topic and it would require multiple controlled studies in order to determine the drug’s effect on patients.
“The only way you can know that is through a controlled study,” he says. “You can suspect it, but unless you actually do a controlled study on people given an inflammatory and those who aren’t, you can’t tell.”
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen, have been known to potentially suppress one’s immune system, according to a 2015 study called “Possible Immunosuppressive Effects of Drug Exposure and Environmental and Nutritional Effects on Infection and Vaccination.“
“In addition to their anti-inflammatory function they often may have also complex immunological effects on cell proliferation, migration, antibody, and cytokine production,” the report states, adding that NSAIDs have been shown to interfere with antiviral immune functions influencing the duration of viral shedding.”
The safest option, experts agreed, was to opt for Tylenol and other paracetamols to ease COVID-19 symptoms for now while more research is done.
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As of Wednesday morning, there are at least 5,881 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 107 people have died. Worldwide, there are now at least 203,995 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 8,104 deaths.
The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare the virus a pandemic.
Epidemiologists have said that Americans need to start practicing “social distancing” — staying inside as much as possible and keeping about 6 feet of distance from people — to limit the chance of asymptomatic people spreading the coronavirus further.
The CDC also says that the best prevention methods are basic forms of hygiene — careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.