Ibuprofen and coronavirus: Should you take ibuprofen now?

Despite internet theories, there's no credible evidence anti-inflammatories will worsen the coronavirus.
Image: Ibuprofen tablets.
Despite theories on the internet, doctors say there is no credible evidence ibuprofen will worsen the coronavirus pandemic. Francis Dean / Corbis via Getty Images file

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By Erika Edwards

While worries that taking ibuprofen might worsen the coronavirus have gone viral online, health experts say there is currently no credible scientific evidence to substantiate the concern.

The World Health Organization told NBC News it's "gathering evidence" on the topic, but "after a rapid review of the literature, is not aware of published clinical or population-based data on this topic."

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Global anxiety over ibuprofen's possible effect on the coronavirus began Saturday, when French Health Minister Olivier Véran tweeted that taking ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs might worsen an infection.

Véran suggested acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) might be preferable, but for people to ask their physician for guidance if they're already taking anti-inflammatories.

The tweet appeared after a letter published in The Lancet on March 11 stated the coronavirus binds to ACE2 receptors on the surfaces of cells. In theory, the letter stated, medications that work by stimulating those receptors (such as ibuprofen) may, in turn, worsen the coronavirus and lead to poorer outcomes.

But that's just a theory. Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System in Atlanta, said that while there are "interesting observations" about the coronavirus, he and other infectious disease experts are focused on "research that will help us learn a lot of the current many unknowns of this virus."

Others agreed: There's no credible evidence ibuprofen either raises the risk for developing COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, or worsens the outcome of the disease.

"There are no hard data at all saying that ibuprofen puts you at any kind of a disadvantage or interferes with the inflammatory response of the body such that it can't fight off the virus," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University.

In a statement, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said "more research is needed to evaluate reports that ibruprofen may affect the course of COVID-19," but added there is "no evidence that ibuprofen increases the risk of serious complications or of acquiring the virus that causes COVID-19" or other respiratory infections.

Dr. Alan Taege, an infectious diseases doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, echoed those responses.

"To our knowledge, there is no reason to avoid ibuprofen due to COVID-19 unless you have other conditions that would require you to avoid it," Taege wrote in an email to NBC News. He added that anti-inflammatory medications are used in the form of steroids for severe cases of the coronavirus.

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Meanwhile, the maker of Tylenol said it's experienced "increased consumer-driven demand" for its products.

"We are shipping our stock in a controlled manner to ensure it reaches as many people as possible during this public health emergency," a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson said in an email on March 18, adding the company does not anticipate a shortage of Tylenol.

Vanderbilt's Schaffner said he knew of no shortage of the drug, at least in middle Tennessee.

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