WHO recommends against using ibuprofen to treat COVID-19

The World Health Organization has officially recommended against using ibuprofen to manage symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by novel coronavirus.

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, or NSAID. It’s sold under a number of brand names, including Advil and Nurofen.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva Tuesday that although there is no recent evidence to suggest that ibuprofen increases mortality from the disease, WHO recommended against using it to treat COVID-19 symptoms until its experts investigated the issue.

There have been conflicting reports about the use of Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs since French Health Minister Olivier Véran, also a neurologist, tweeted Saturday that it may worsen a COVID-19 infection.

Véran was referencing a study in the medical journal the Lancet that suggested NSAIDS could have the potential to worsen COVID-19. 

The European Union’s medicines agency said Wednesday there is currently no evidence that taking ibuprofen makes the disease caused by the coronavirus worse.

The British Pharmacological Society agreed there is no strong evidence the anti-inflammatory drugs exacerbate COVID-19, but recommends against their use for now.

“We support the cautious approach as more evidence is collected,” said the society’s president, Munir Pirmohamed.

“Until we have more information, people should take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, unless they have been told by their doctor that paracetamol is not suitable for them.”

Paracetamol is known commonly as acetaminophen in Canada, and sold under brands such as Tylenol.

Advil products, a common brand of ibuprofen, are pictured at a Walgreens store in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 31, 2017. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

While COVID-19 is a new disease, some of what’s known about its potential downsides could apply, experts say.

“There is a good reason to avoid ibuprofen as it may exacerbate acute kidney injury brought on by any severe illness, including severe COVID-19 disease,” Dr. Rupert Beale, an expert in the cell biology of infection at biomedical research centre the Francis Crick Institute in the U.K, said in a written statement.

Charlotte Warren-Gash, an associate professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the class of drugs is already used only selectively for people with underlying health conditions.

“Most deaths from COVID-19 have been among older people and those with underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease,” she said in a written statement. “We already know that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be prescribed with caution for people who have underlying health conditions.”

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