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Health experts are weighing in amid rumors that ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory medication may worsen the infection of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Saturday, France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran tweeted that “taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone, …) could be a factor in worsening the infection” in regard to the coronavirus and urged those with a fever to take paracetamol, or Tylenol, instead.
“If you are already on anti-inflammatory drugs or in doubt, ask your doctor for advice,” Véran added.
But as it turns out, Véran’s advice might not be as factual as expected.
According to Dr. Robert A. Norton, a professor of Public Health at Auburn University, and Dr. William Haseltine, infectious disease expert and Chair and President of the global health think tank, ACCESS Health, there are no current data that prove taking ibuprofen can make the virus worse.
“I have not seen any data on this,” Norton tells PEOPLE. “The high fever that is associated with the virus is medically serious. High fever can be life-threatening.”
“Individuals experiencing high fever need to immediately contact their medical provider and assiduously follow their guidance,” he continues. “In addition to medication, people experiencing high fever can apply cold compresses to their bodies.”
Norton explains that the compresses are often used in hospitals to help patients cope with high fevers and that medical personnel occasionally use ones that circulate cold water and “rapidly bring down core temperature.”
“Having said that, I want to emphasize I am NOT saying that cold compresses are an acceptable substitution for medication,” he adds. “Only a licensed physician can give guidance on medication.”
Haseltine echoed his sentiments, noting that he hasn’t seen any data on the topic and it would require multiple controlled studies in order to determine the drug’s effect on patients.
“The only way you can know that is through a controlled study,” he says. “You can suspect it, but unless you actually do a controlled study on people given an inflammatory and those who aren’t, you can’t tell.”
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen, have been known to potentially suppress one’s immune system, according to a 2015 study called “Possible Immunosuppressive Effects of Drug Exposure and Environmental and Nutritional Effects on Infection and Vaccination.“
“In addition to their anti-inflammatory function they often may have also complex immunological effects on cell proliferation, migration, antibody, and cytokine production,” the report states, adding that NSAIDs have been shown to interfere with antiviral immune functions influencing the duration of viral shedding.”
Though certain illnesses, such as a cold, likely won’t pose a threat to a person’s health if their immune system is compromised, those with coronavirus cannot risk that and will need to be as healthy as possible so their body can effectively fight off the infectious illness, Dr. Amir Khan told Al Jazeera.
As of Monday morning, there are at least 3,602 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, and 66 people have died. Worldwide, there are now at least 176,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 7,355 deaths.
The first cases of a mysterious respiratory illness — what is now known as COVID-2019, a form of coronavirus — began in Wuhan, China in late December. Since then, the virus has spread worldwide, leading the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency, the first since the zika epidemic in 2016.
Epidemiologists have said that Americans need to start practicing “social distancing” — staying inside as much as possible and keeping about 6 feet of distance from people — to limit the chance of asymptomatic people spreading the coronavirus further.
The CDC also says that the best prevention methods are basic forms of hygiene — careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.
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