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Is paracetamol effective in treating or curing COVID-19?

This article was published on
August 5, 2020

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Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen, Tylenol, Dolo 650) can help relieve symptoms associated with COVID-19, but it cannot cure the viral infection. Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, is a medication commonly used for mild to moderate pain and aches relief, and fever reduction. Since some people infected with COVID-19 experience fever, body aches and headaches, this drug has been prescribed to relieve those symptoms. Paracetamol can provide some relief for patients with these symptoms, but it is not a cure against COVID-19. Paracetamol made news headlines early in the pandemic because some governments, including the United Kingdom and France, and the World Health Organization encouraged people with COVID-19 to take paracetamol rather than ibuprofen – another drug used to help manage symptoms like fever, headache, or body aches. At the time, there were concerns about a link between ibuprofen and other drugs that could be prescribed to COVID-19 patients (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs) that could lead to an increased risk for illness or for worsening of COVID-19 symptoms. As the pandemic evolved, the WHO changed their stance on March 19 2020 to say that they do not recommend avoiding ibuprofen to treat COVID-19 symptoms. While paracetamol is routinely used to relieve COVID-19 symptoms, it is important to strictly respect the dosage prescribed as stated on the medication bottle. The dosage of paracetamol for adults is 1-2 500 milligram tablets up to four times in 24 hours, with at least four hours in between doses. Any higher amount can be dangerous and is not advised. _This entry was updated with new information on August 4th, 2020_

Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen, Tylenol, Dolo 650) can help relieve symptoms associated with COVID-19, but it cannot cure the viral infection. Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, is a medication commonly used for mild to moderate pain and aches relief, and fever reduction. Since some people infected with COVID-19 experience fever, body aches and headaches, this drug has been prescribed to relieve those symptoms. Paracetamol can provide some relief for patients with these symptoms, but it is not a cure against COVID-19. Paracetamol made news headlines early in the pandemic because some governments, including the United Kingdom and France, and the World Health Organization encouraged people with COVID-19 to take paracetamol rather than ibuprofen – another drug used to help manage symptoms like fever, headache, or body aches. At the time, there were concerns about a link between ibuprofen and other drugs that could be prescribed to COVID-19 patients (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs) that could lead to an increased risk for illness or for worsening of COVID-19 symptoms. As the pandemic evolved, the WHO changed their stance on March 19 2020 to say that they do not recommend avoiding ibuprofen to treat COVID-19 symptoms. While paracetamol is routinely used to relieve COVID-19 symptoms, it is important to strictly respect the dosage prescribed as stated on the medication bottle. The dosage of paracetamol for adults is 1-2 500 milligram tablets up to four times in 24 hours, with at least four hours in between doses. Any higher amount can be dangerous and is not advised. _This entry was updated with new information on August 4th, 2020_

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What our experts say

Paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen, Tylenol, Dolo 650) can help relieve symptoms associated with COVID-19, but it cannot cure the viral infection.

Paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, is a medication commonly used for mild to moderate pain and aches relief, and fever reduction. Since some people infected with COVID-19 experience fever, body aches and headaches, this drug has been prescribed to relieve those symptoms. Paracetamol can provide some relief for patients with these symptoms, but it is not a cure against COVID-19.

Paracetamol made news headlines early in the pandemic because some governments, including the United Kingdom and France, and the World Health Organization encouraged people with COVID-19 to take paracetamol rather than ibuprofen – another drug used to help manage symptoms like fever, headache, or body aches. At the time, there were concerns about a link between ibuprofen and other drugs that could be prescribed to COVID-19 patients (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs) that could lead to an increased risk for illness or for worsening of COVID-19 symptoms. As the pandemic evolved, the WHO changed their stance on March 19 2020 to say that they do not recommend avoiding ibuprofen to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

While paracetamol is routinely used to relieve COVID-19 symptoms, it is important to strictly respect the dosage prescribed as stated on the medication bottle. The dosage of paracetamol for adults is 1-2 500 milligram tablets up to four times in 24 hours, with at least four hours in between doses. Any higher amount can be dangerous and is not advised.

This entry was updated with new information on August 4th, 2020

Context and background

Paracetamol is an analgesic (pain reliever) that can address minor to moderate cases of aches, pains, and fever; other common names for paracetamol are acetaminophen, Tylenol, and Dolo 650. Acetaminophen is often confused with ibuprofen, another pain reliever that is commonly referred to as Advil, one of the commercial brands of ibuprofen. The main difference between the two is that ibuprofen has anti-inflammatory effects, making it a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) whereas acetaminophen does not, and therefore is not considered an NSAID.

Confusion between the two was exacerbated in the context of COVID-19 following a tweet in mid-March by France’s Minister of Solidarity and Health, which claimed that taking anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Advil) could contribute to worsening a COVID-19 infection, and that acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) should be taken instead. The WHO initially took a similar position, recommending that ibuprofen be avoided for treating symptoms of COVID-19, but changed their stance on March 19 to say that they do not recommend avoiding ibuprofen to treat COVID-19 symptoms. Though there is no strong evidence that ibuprofen worsens COVID-19 symptoms, some public health bodies such as UK's National Health Service only recommend taking acetaminophen for COVID-19 symptoms.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the daily maximum oral dose for adults is 3 grams per day though other sources (including the Merck Manual) suggest that up to 4 grams per day is generally well tolerated in healthy adults. Paracetamol can be toxic to the liver in high doses or when used in combination with alcohol, some other medications, or for patients with existing liver or kidney problems, those who are malnourished or underweight, or those of advanced age. It is important to follow packaging instructions carefully when taking this or any over the counter medications, and a medical professional should be consulted for additional, personalized guidance.

This entry was updated with new information on August 4th, 2020

Resources

  1. PubChem: Acetaminophen (NLM)
  2. Acetaminophen, In LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury, 2016 (NIDDKD)
  3. Commission on Human Medicines advice on ibuprofen and coronavirus (COVID-19), 2020 (UK Government)
  4. Tweet from Olivier Véran, Health Minister of France, on March 14, 2020 (Twitter)
  5. Tweet from the WHO, on March 18, 2020 (Twitter)
  6. Drugs by Name, Generic and Brand: Acetaminophen (Merck Manual Professional Version)
  7. Dolo 650 (Practo)

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