FactCheck Social Media

Ibuprofen and COVID-19 ‘link’ infects social media

2020-03-27 17:21:48

The Statement

A social media post claims to be passing on information someone received from “a doctor in the family” about a purported link between the pain reliever ibuprofen and deaths from COVID-19.

A UK-based Facebook user states in a post, “I have a doctor in the family who has been given information from Vienna’s laboratory studying COVID-19 and vast majority of people who died of it, had ibuprofen so if you have symptoms, take Paracetamol only!!! Looks like the virus thrives on ibuprofen so don’t do it and tell everyone you can!!!”

The March 16 post has been shared more than 15,000 times and viewed more than 1.4 million times.

A Facebook post from March 16, 2020
 A Facebook post claims that there is a link between the pain reliever ibuprofen and COVID-19 deaths. 

The Analysis

Ibuprofen, also sold under brand names such as Nurofen and Advil, is one of the world’s most commonly used pain medications. It belongs to a class of medicines known as NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory products.

On March 14, French Health Minister Olivier Véran issued a warning on Twitter on March 14 that “Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone, …) could be a factor in worsening the infection,” advice which “left many medical experts scratching their heads,” according to The New York Times.

A letter published on March 11 in the medical journal The Lancet has generated much discussion after its authors argued that there is a possibility ACE  (Angiotensin-converting-enzyme) inhibitors – a class of medication often used to control blood pressure – could be linked to COVID-19 mortality rates. The letter explains that human coronaviruses bind to their target cells through an enzyme called ACE2, which can be increased by use of ACE inhibitors and by use of ibuprofen. However, the letter states several times that it is only a hypothesis. This  point is reinforced by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in an article titled, “Ibuprofen and COVID-19: What GPs need to know”.

The post mentions “Vienna’s laboratory studying COVID-19”. A WhatsApp audio message that has circulated widely on social media features a female voice, speaking German, claiming a friend who is a doctor at the university hospital in Vienna, warned her that most patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19 had taken ibuprofen before they came to hospital, according to a report.

The Medical University of Vienna was later linked to the claimed COVID-19 laboratory study and issued a statement that the information is “fake news that has no connection with the MedUni Vienna”.

The World Health Organization tweeted on March 18 that people can continue to use ibuprofen and they were “not aware of reports of any negative effects.”

Brufen, ibuprofen, anti-inflammatory drugs
 The World Health Organization tweeted on March 18 that people can continue to use ibuprofen. 

British firm Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Nurofen, said on its website 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”.

The company concurs with WHO that “based on all available information, there is currently no proven scientific evidence linking over-the-counter use of ibuprofen to the aggravation of COVID-19”.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US also released a statement saying that there is no evidence the two are connected: “At this time, FDA is not aware of scientific evidence connecting the use of (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, with worsening COVID-19 symptoms.” The FDA is investigating the issue further.

Professor Parastou Donyai and Director of Pharmacy Practice at Britain’s University of Reading told the BBC that, “there are many studies that suggest ibuprofen use during a respiratory infection can result in worsening of the disease or other complications.”  However, she added, “I have not seen any scientific evidence that clearly shows a totally healthy 25-year-old taking ibuprofen for symptoms of COVID-19 is putting themselves at additional risk of complications.”

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Ministry of Health told AAP Factcheck in a statement: “The rumour that ibuprofen will aggravate COVID-19 symptoms is based on a theoretical concern, not actual clinical observation.”

The ministry’s MedSafe data sheet on ibuprofen contains a lengthy list of warnings on proper usage. It also states that NSAIDs are not recommended for people with many medical conditions or on blood thinners.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP Factcheck found the post to be false. There is no firm link established between ibuprofen usage and worsening cases of COVID-19. The World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration in the US and British firm Reckitt Benckiser all state there is no proven medical evidence to support the post’s claim that “this virus thrives on ibuprofen”. However, a variety of medical professionals recommend care when taking ibuprofen and being aware of known side effects.

False – The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://factcheck.aap.com.au/