Coronavirus: WHO issues warning on ibuprofen

People who suspect they have caught the coronavirus should not take ibuprofen painkillers like Nurofen without consulting a doctor, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says, pointing to ongoing research into possible negative effects.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva press conference that there are no recent studies that link the anti-inflammatory drug with increased mortality rates but he added that experts are currently investigating the matter.

"In the meantime, we recommend using rather paracetamol, and do not use ibuprofen as a self-medication. That's important," he said.

He added that if ibuprofen had been "prescribed by the healthcare professionals, then, of course, that's up to them."

The UN agency's comments came after leading French health officials warned against using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) against the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.

France’s health minister on Saturday said people should not use anti-inflammatory drugs if they have coronavirus-like symptoms because it could worsen their condition.

“Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone ...) could be an aggravating factor for the infection. If you have a fever, take paracetamol,” Oliver Veran said on Twitter.

A woman holding an Ibuprofen tablet. Source: AAP
People who suspect they have coronavirus should not take the painkiller ibuprofen without consulting a doctor. Source: AAP

The French minister stressed that patients already being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs should ask advice from their doctor.

Paracetamol must be taken strictly according to the recommended dose, because too much of it can damage the liver.

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A recent article in medical journal The Lancet put forward the hypothesis that some drugs including ibuprofen might pose a risk for COVID-19 patients who also suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes.

Nurofen producer Reckitt Benckiser sought to quash warnings against taking the drug on Monday, saying it was not aware of any evidence that the pills’ active ingredient ibuprofen adversely impacted patients suffering from COVID-19.

Nurofen, one of Reckitt’s more popular drugs, contains 200 mg of Ibuprofen as its active ingredient in each tablet and is indicated for “effective pain and inflammation relief and reducing fever,” according to the company’s website.

“RB has neither received new safety information nor been involved in the evaluation of any adverse events regarding the use of ibuprofen in COVID-19,” a spokesperson for British pharmaceutical company said on Monday.

“Consumer safety is our number one priority," they said, stressing that "Ibuprofen is a well-established medicine that has been used safely as a self-care fever and pain reducer, including in viral illnesses, for more than 30 years."

Ibuprofen packed and loose pills. Source: AAP
A recent article in medical journal The Lancet put forward the hypothesis that some drugs including ibuprofen might pose a risk for COVID-19 patients. Source: AAP

The spokesperson said Reckitt Benckiser was "engaging with the WHO, EMA (the European Medicines Agency) and other local health authorities" on the issue and would provide "any additional information or guidance necessary for the safe use of our products following any such evaluation."

Lindmeier also reported that two WHO staff members have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Several hundred WHO staffers started working remotely from home on Tuesday.

The UN health agency no longer invites journalists to its premises to update them on the coronavirus pandemic but broadcasts its briefings on social media.

with Reuters and AFP

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