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WHO walks back warning about ibuprofen and coronavirus, ‘not aware’ of any negative effects

Bert Folsom - Fotolia

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend daily life across the globe, confusion has persisted over whether it’s safe to take Ibuprofen for symptoms related to COVID-19.

The World Health Organization, which earlier this week recommended against taking Ibuprofen, indicated Thursday that it was walking back that advice.

"WHO is aware of concerns on the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e., ibuprofen) for the treatment of fever for people with COVID-19,” said a statement from the organization. “At present, after a rapid review of the literature, WHO is not aware of published clinical or population-based data on this topic. We are consulting with physicians treating COVID-19 patients and are not aware of reports of any negative effects of ibuprofen, beyond the usual known side effects that limit its use in certain populations. Based on currently available information, WHO does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen.”

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Thursday’s statement from the WHO followed an earlier comment from a spokesman for the organization, who told reporters in Geneva Tuesday that the group was looking into a recent article published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine suggesting Ibuprofen may not be safe, Science Alert reported.

“In the meantime, we recommend using rather paracetamol, and do not use ibuprofen as a self-medication. That’s important,” the spokesman told reporters, according to Science Alert.

The Lancet article was published Mar. 11. and authored by researchers from University Hospital Basel in Switzerland and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. It said human pathogenic coronaviruses bind to target cells “through angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).”

The authors wrote that ACE2 can be “increased by thiazolidinediones and ibuprofen,” and that they “hypothesize that diabetes and hypertension treatment with ACE2-stimulating drugs increases the risk of developing severe and fatal COVID-19.”

But in a separate statement Monday, the University of Basel, which two of the study authors are affiliated with, said there currently are no conclusive findings.

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“Currently, the question is being discussed whether taking the painkiller Ibuprofen exacerbates the progression of COVID-19,” the statement said. “A correspondence by Basel researchers states that there are some indications of a negative effect, but no clear evidence of an adverse impact. More research is needed to investigate this hypothesis.”

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Michael Roth, who leads a research group at the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and University Hospital Basel, was also quoted in the school’s statement.

Roth said the researchers’ hypothesis "does not constitute a recommendation to use certain drugs or not. Patients should always follow the instructions given by their physicians.”

He and his co-authors wrote in the Lancet piece that patients with certain underlying health conditions are particularly vulnerable.

“We suggest that patients with cardiac diseases, hypertension, or diabetes, who are treated with ACE2-increasing drugs, are at higher risk for severe COVID-19 infection and, therefore, should be monitored for ACE2-modulating medications, such as ACE inhibitors or ARBs,” the article said. “Based on a PubMed search on Feb 28, 2020, we did not find any evidence to suggest that antihypertensive calcium channel blockers increased ACE2 expression or activity, therefore these could be a suitable alternative treatment in these patients.”


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.