Although we know far more about the novel coronavirus today than we did in January, there are still plenty of unanswered questions. Is there a cure? How long does infection last? And, most recently, does ibuprofen make the virus worse?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended in mid-March that COVID-19 patients should avoid taking ibuprofen medications like Advil, but not all experts agree. Here’s what you need to know about this controversy and its effects on your health.
Who Sounded the Alarm on Ibuprofen?
The original warning about nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen came from Olivier Véran, the health minister of France.
In a tweet on March 14, Véran, a neurologist, stated, “Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone…) could be a factor in worsening the infection.” The health minister encouraged patients to use acetaminophen like Tylenol instead.
In a letter to healthcare professionals, the health ministry explained that “serious adverse events related to the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been reported in patients with COVID-19, possible or confirmed cases…. NSAIDs should be banned.”
What Do Other Experts Say?
Not all experts agree with France’s health minister, leading to confusion as citizens try to prepare for potential infections.
Dr. Faheem Younish, chief quality officer and chief of infectious diseases at the University of Maryland UCH, responded to Véran’s tweet by saying, “This is false. There are no studies providing this reckless opinion.”
Even the official Twitter account for the WHO seems to have reversed its initial response to the ibuprofen controversy, stating, “Based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen. We are also consulting with physicians treating COVID-19 patients and are not aware of reports of any negative effects of ibuprofen, beyond the usual known side effects that limit its use in certain populations.”
The only recent research to link ibuprofen to the coronavirus was published on March 11, 2020. According to this study, ibuprofen is one of the drugs believed to increase the quantity of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) in the human body. As this report explains, “Human pathogenic coronaviruses… bind to their target cells through ACE2.” If ibuprofen does indeed increase the expression of ACE2, it would explain the potential danger of NSAIDs to COVID-19 patients.
Yet according to Rachel Graham, a virologist at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, high levels of ACE2 don’t automatically predispose people to coronavirus. “You can have low levels of ACE2 and still be susceptible,” she explained.
One thing is for sure: more in-depth research is needed to understand the true effect of ibuprofen on coronavirus patients.
What’s the Bottom Line?
At the moment, most American experts agree that the controversy over ibuprofen should be taken with a grain (or two) of salt. Most recommend Tylenol as a safe, effective tool to reduce fever and associated virus symptoms, but your doctor is the best person to ask.