Despite a warning from French Health Minister Olivier Veran that ibuprofen could worsen COVID-19 symptoms, there is currently no strong evidence to advise against taking the medication to treat the illness, according to the World Health Organization.
While the WHO initially advised against taking ibuprofen, the organization now says people suffering symptoms could medicate as usual.
The WHO told the Star in a statement the organization is “aware of concerns on the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs … for the treatment of fever for people with COVID-19. WHO is gathering further evidence on this issue before making a formal recommendation, but after a rapid review of the literature, is not aware of published clinical or population-based data on this topic.”
In two tweets posted Wednesday evening, the WHO further acknowledged concerns about ibuprofen.
“Based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen,” the tweet said. “We are consulting with physicians treating the patients (and) are not aware of reports of any negative effects, beyond the usual ones that limit its use in certain populations.”
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams acknowledged he was aware of the debate around ibuprofen.
“Anything (information) that’s out there, we try to look into it,” he said, noting that at this point others have pointed out there is only one article that disputes ibuprofen’s effectiveness.
Michelle Arnot, associate professor at the University of Toronto’s school of pharmacology, said further study is needed before it’s clear how a person with COVID-19 might react to medications like ibuprofen.
She said the concern raised in France was from “observational data.”
“There is no evidence that (ibuprofen) increases or worsens symptoms,” she said.
Additionally, a study published in the medical journal The Lancet looked at how the COVID-19 virus works in the body. While the article has been linked to the debate around ibuprofen, Arnot stressed the two weren’t connected.
“These two are unrelated but linked by various media sources. The Lancet article makes no specific direct reference to ibuprofen’s effect in treating COVID 19, it examined cases from China,” Arnot said.
There is no clear evidence to suggest this would be an issue for other patients. “This is very preliminary” research coming from just one source, Arnot said.
“I think unless there’s some evidence-based research that answers this question … it’s too early to say ibuprofen shouldn’t be taken for fever, period,” she explained.
Arnot stressed that fever is the body’s way of fighting off infection. “A little bit of fever isn’t a bad thing, right? It’s just our immune system working.
“If (a) fever becomes … higher than (you’re) comfortable with,” then it is fine to continue taking the medication that one usually turns to, she said.
“When you become uncomfortable, then you should start to medicate. And if that medication isn’t helping bring down the fever, then you should definitely seek medical attention.”
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Meanwhile, the head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association also said Thursday there was not enough evidence to avoid the common painkiller, ibuprophen, but nevertheless suggested concerned patients use acetaminophen instead.
Ibuprophen is a common painkiller and includes products such as Advil.
“It’s sometimes good to err on the side of caution because we can’t disapprove what that statement was,” said Allan Malek, referring to a weekend tweet from France’s health ministry that sparked the controversy.
“Because there is another alternative — acetaminophen, which are the Tylenol-based products — that would be a good alternative in terms of treating fever and pain that may come along with positive symptoms of COVID-19.”
Malek, who takes ibuprofen regularly for arthritis, said those who already take ibuprofen should not stop, but should ask their doctor if concerned.