As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, many of us are preparing for the possibility that we may contract the virus.
This includes checking which medications are advisable for treating it – even if you only have mild symptoms.
Recently, Olivier Véran, the Health Minister for France and a qualified doctor warned people not to take ibuprofen.
He said: “Anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, cortisone …) could aggravate the infection. If you have a fever, take paracetamol.”
He said this in reference to COVID-19.
So, why did he advise that we stop using one of the most common forms of pain relief?
Well, although anti-inflammatories are used by millions to treat sore throats, colds, headaches and arthritis, some believe they can have a depressive effect on the immune system.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), this means that sometimes it can interfere with optimal antibody production.
In a 2015 paper published in the journal Hindawi, H.P Huemer wrote that: “aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen have been shown to interfere with antiviral immune functions influencing the duration of viral shedding in rhinovirus infected humans.”
While this response doesn’t usually matter when it comes to a common cold – which is unlikely to lead to complications – it could matter with the killer virus.
Our immune system needs to be in ship shape to defend against coronavirus.
According to Dr Amir Khan, an NHS doctor who spoke to Al Jazeera, anti-inflammatories could lead to a greater chance of complications.
This is because when we first contract the virus, our bodies experience a range of respiratory problems.
These can include a fever, cough and sometimes organ disfunction.
An early response to this is to release “mast cells” which come into contact with the virus and cause a bigger immune response to trigger.
This includes inflammatory chemicals being released which tackle the virus in the mid- to long-term.
The effectiveness of these chemicals is often what decides if the patient recovers or experiences complications.
So, if we take anti-inflammatories while experiencing mild symptoms, it could mean that we suffer worse and for longer.
Anti-inflammatories which are commonly use include: ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac and steroids such as prednisolone.
Paracetamol is not an anti-inflammatory and can be used safely.
If you take anti-inflammatories to cope with a long-term condition then then you should consult your doctor to come up with a balanced response to the risk.
That way you can most effectively treat your pre-existing condition with the threat of COVID-19 in mind.
Confusingly, NHS advice goes against what Olivier Véran are saying.
The NHS advises that ibuprofen could be used to help tackle the symptoms of coronavirus.
If you are suffering from the symptoms of the COVID-19 – fever, cough, shortness of breath – then try to use paracetamol, advise British experts.
Professor Ian Jones, virologist at the University of Reading, said: “The advice relates to Ibuprofen’s anti-inflammatory properties, that is, it dampens down the immune system, which may slow the recovery process.
“In addition, it is likely, based on the substantial literature around SARS I and the similarities this new virus (SARS-CoV-2) has to SARS I, that the virus reduces a key enzyme which part-regulates the water and salt concentration in the blood and could be part of the pneumonia seen in extreme cases.
“Ibuprofen aggravates this while paracetamol does not.”
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So, if possible stick to paracetamol.
If you are presenting with symptoms of COVID-19, however mild, the government advice is to stay at home and self-isolate for seven days.
Call 111 for medical advice if you are struggling to cope with your symptoms or you are not feeling better after seven days.
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