It's a common over-the-counter drug, but could it be dangerous? Here's what health officials advise.

By Claire Gillespie
March 19, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, so does advice and information about how to treat its symptoms. One possible treatment option in particular giving rise to confusion is the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. 

What’s the truth about ibuprofen and COVID-19? The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend against taking ibuprofen if you think you have the virus.

In a tweet posted on March 18, the organization wrote, “We are 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 tweet also stated that WHO was “not aware of published clinical or population-based data on this topic.”   

One renowned US medical center that does recommend taking ibuprofen to relieve symptoms of COVID-19 is Mayo Clinic, which also advises using cough meds, resting, and drinking plenty of fluids. 

Despite what medical officials are saying, stories have been circulating on WhatsApp and social media about the dangers of taking ibuprofen to treat the symptoms of COVID-19. But a lot of them are just that: stories. 

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Typically, these posts are copy-and-paste efforts claiming to be from someone the forwarder says they know, often with a medical background. The Infectious Diseases Society of Ireland addressed one particular message about coronavirus patients in Cork, tweeting that it is a “fake message” and asking anyone who receives it to “ignore and delete.”

Social media scaremongering aside, the situation isn’t helped by the fact that advice in other countries conflicts with the WHO’s position. For example, in France, the government has issued a warning that over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen may make coronavirus worse. 

Where do US health officials stand? On March 18, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) held a teleconference with Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, and he was asked about taking ibuprofen for the new coronavirus.   

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“First of all, there’s not enough data in any event, positively or negatively,” said Dr. Fauci. “[The] bottom line is, we have not seen any firm data to indicate that there’s a problem or to prove that there’s not a problem.”

Some studies indicate that the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories to treat other respiratory infections can result in worsening of the disease or other complications, which Dr. Fauci referred to during the teleconference. “With influenza in children, if you take aspirin, you can possibly get Reye syndrome, which as we know is a neurological disease and syndrome in children,” he said.

However, he went on to clarify that ibuprofen and aspirin are not the same thing. Aspirin shouldn’t be given to children under age 12 or children under age 16 with a viral illness, while ibuprofen is approved for use in kids over the age of six months. 

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If you are experiencing fever—one of the main symptoms of COVID-19, Dr. Fauci advises taking “Tylenol [acetaminophen] every six hours” to bring down the fever.  

As always, however, it's best to check with your own physician about taking any over-the-counter painkiller to ease coronavirus symptoms, especially if you have any preexisting health conditions or are already taking prescribed medications.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDCWHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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