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ibuprofen can make COVID-19 worseSome Drugs Can Make COVID-19 Worse

There has been some advice going around – some of it on government websites – about how we should stock up on over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen in order to treat fever related to the COVID-19 disease. (These drugs are also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs.)

This information has been bothering me for a couple of weeks now. As someone with the autoimmune disease lupus, I know inflammation. It is the body’s natural response to infection (or, in the case of a chronic autoimmune disease, what the body thinks is infection). By taking drugs that suppress that natural response, you inhibit your ability to fight off infection. And that is, obviously, counterproductive in the case of an infection like COVID-19.

My concern has support from a few doctors and other experts whose comments on the subject have been making headlines. First, the French health minister tweeted on March 14: “The taking of anti-inflammatories [ibuprofen, cortisone … ] could be a factor in aggravating the infection. In case of fever, take paracetamol. If you are already taking anti-inflammatory drugs, ask your doctor’s advice.” Paracetamol (acetaminophen/Tylenol) acts in a different way and isn’t normally considered to be an anti-inflammatory. Later, Jean-Louis Montastruc, the head of pharmacology at Toulouse hospital in France, told the German radio station RTL that anti-inflammatory drugs increase the risk of complications when there is a fever or infection.

Although there is not yet any research specific to COVID-19, a trial by Paul Little who is a professor at the UK’s University of Southampton, published in the British Medical Journal, found patients with respiratory infections who were prescribed ibuprofen rather than paracetamol were more likely to subsequently suffer severe illness or complications. Other studies in other countries have linked anti-inflammatory drugs to worsened pneumonia.

On March 16, the British newspaper The Guardian did an article on the subject. And now, the World Health Organization has also issued a warning. Stay well!

Update: Just a day after I posted this, and a day after the WHO warning, some other doctors and scientists publicly disagreed with their peers’ statements about ibuprofen. The WHO then backtracked, saying it did “not recommend against” the use of ibuprofen to mitigate COVID-19 symptoms. Given that knowledge about this particular virus is scant, but developing quickly, one does not know who or what to believe! As for me, I take as few drugs as possible, which at this point means none.

Wendy Priesnitz

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