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UPDATE – Coronavirus: French health minister and WHO issue warning over taking anti-inflammatories

France's health minister Olivier Véran warned the public on Saturday that anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and cortisone could be an aggravating factor in coronavirus infections.

UPDATE - Coronavirus: French health minister and WHO issue warning over taking anti-inflammatories
Photo: AFP

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“Taking anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, cortisone…) could be an aggravating factor for the infection,” Véran tweeted.

“In case of fever take paracetamol. If you are already on a course of anti-inflammatories or if you are in doubt then consult your doctor,” Véran added on Twitter.

His tweet was rapidly retweeted thousands of times with many members of the public asking for further information and a source for his reasoning.

France recently tightened the sale of ibuprofen and paracetamol due to the potential dangers associated with the drugs. The drugs are only sold behind the counter in pharmacies.

Paracetamol must be taken strictly according to the dose, because too high a dosage can be very dangerous for the liver.

Since the announcement the French government has decided to limit the sale of paracetamol in pharmacies due to a rise in demand.

From now on people without symptoms will only be able to buy one box and anyone with sympoms can buy two.

According to Le Figaro newspaper ibuprofen can aggravate existing infections that can lead to “complications”.

The newspaper continues: “Inflammation is a normal response from body to infection and it's an alert signal.

“By masking the response of the immune system taking anti-inflammatories can not only impair the body's response but also hide the signs of how serious it can be. This can delay the diagnosis and therefor treatment.”

According to Dr Annie Pierre from the centre of pharmacovigilance in Tours: “tests in animals showed that taking ibuprofen encourages the growth of certain bacteria.”

Last April France's Medicine's agency ANSM released a report that suggested anti-inflammatories had an aggravating role when it comes to infections.”

The French Minister's advice was then backed up by the WHO on March 17th.

The World Health Organization recommended Tuesday that people suffering from COVID-19-like symptoms should avoid self-medicating with ibuprofen.

The warnings followed a recent study in The Lancet weekly medical journal that hypothesised 
that an enzyme that is boosted when taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen could facilitate and worsen COVID-19 infections.

Asked about the study, WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva that the UN health agency's experts were “looking into this to give further guidance.”

“In the meantime, we recommend using rather paracetamol, and do not use ibuprofen as a self-medication. That's important,” he said

On Friday France's Health Minister Veran said: “The spread of the virus across our territory is accelerating, especially in certain regions.”

He urged the public to limit contact and travel and to wash hands regularly as the death toll ion the country rose to 79.

“Respect social distancing, acknowledge someone rather than greet them physically, keep a metre distance and limit non-essential travel as well visits to the most vulnerable,” he said.



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Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones.