Anti-inflammatory drugs could worsen COVID-19 symptoms, France warns

Published March 15, 2020 11:20 a.m. ET
Updated March 17, 2020 10:43 a.m. ET

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TORONTO -- LATEST INFORMATION - Fact check: Is taking ibuprofen risky for COVID-19 patients?

Popular medications that may be taken in the hope of fighting COVID-19 could in fact make symptoms worse, France's health minister says.

Olivier Veran tweeted Saturday that ibuprofen, cortisone and other common anti-inflammatory drugs could be an "aggravating factor" for the new coronavirus.

He recommended that anyone concerned about a fever instead treat it with paracetamol, which is also known as acetaminophen. Anyone already taking anti-inflammatory drugs for other reasons should seek advice from their doctor, Veran said.

Non-prescription drugs containing either anti-inflammatory agents or acetaminophen were moved behind the counter in France in January. This shift had nothing to do with COVID-19. It came about because of government concern around several known risks of the medications, including the complication of infections.

In Canada, where these medications remain available on store shelves, the Public Health Agency of Canada has recommended that anyone in self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic have both acetaminophen and ibuprofen with them in case of fever.

Dr. Matthew Oughton, a physician at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital who specializes in infectious diseases, cautioned Tuesday that Veran's warning was based on "very preliminary" research.

"These are all just observations. These are not at all firmly established in the medical literature," he told CTV News Channel.

However, Oughton said the observations are enough for him to recommend that patients opt for acetaminophen over ibuprofen.

"At the present time, if I had a choice, I would certainly be using over-the-counter acetaminophen ... first and foremost for the usual fevers and aches and pains," he said.

The World Health Organization has said that there is no specific medicine recommended for treating the virus at this point. Its advice notes that acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin all "may mask symptoms of infection" but does not specifically recommend that any be taken or avoided in a specific situation.

There had been more than 6,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in France as of Tuesday.


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