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France limits sale of paracetamol due to Covid-19

France is now limiting the sale of paracetamol to just one or two packs per person - without a doctor’s prescription - as people stock up on the drug during the Covid-19 crisis.

From today (Tuesday March 18) pharmacists will only be permitted to sell one box of paracetamol (of 500 mg or 1g tablets) to a person who has no symptoms; and two boxes to someone presenting symptoms, such as pain or fever.

Pharmacists will still be able to give extra quantities to people with a GP prescription for the drug.

The measure was announced by national drug safety agency l’Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament (ANSM). It said it was advising medical professionals and pharmacies to “neither prescribe, deliver, nor stock these drugs unnecessarily”.

The move comes after French health minister Olivier Véran warned that taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or cortisone - normally seen as alternative or “equivalent” painkillers to paracetamol - could actually worsen the Covid-19 infection.

Infectious diseases specialist at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, Alexandre Bleibtreu, has explained that paracetamol does not act in the same was as ibuprofen or cortisone, and therefore does not present the same risks in the case of Covid-19.

In its announcement, ANSM said: “We remind patients to use paracetamol. In fact, anti-inflammatories - including ibuprofen - can mask an infection, and potentially aggravate it in certain cases.”

But it added: “If you are currently taking prescribed ibuprofen or cortisone, do not stop your treatment, and consult your doctor if necessary.”

The ANSM also warned that although paracetamol is “a safe and effective” medicine, taking too much can cause severe liver damage. It added that patients must always respect the stated dose (on the pack), and leave the stated time to pass between doses.

It advised:

  • Take the smallest dosage, for the shortest amount of time possible
  • Respect the stated dose, the daily maximum dose, and the amount of time necessary between doses, for the maximum treatment period (3 days in case of fever, 5 days in case of pain, without a prescription stating otherwise)
  • Check that you are not also accidentally taking in more paracetamol through other medicines (used for pain, fever, allergies, colds or ‘flu)
  • Some people should avoid the drug, ANSM said, including people weighing less than 50kg; those with liver or kidney damage; and people with chronic alcoholism.

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The French government has issued health advice to help stop the virus from spreading.

This advice includes:
  • Stay at home, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Keep a 1 metre distance between yourself and others when you are out.
  • Wash your hands with soap or hydro-alcoholic sanitiser gel frequently.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hands.
  • Use single use tissues and dispose immediately after use.
  • Do not shake hands, or greet people with kisses on the cheek.
  • If you are sick, everyone in the household must stay at home, and avoid any trips outdoors, and wear a mask in the company of others.

If you believe you are sick, do not go to the hospital or visit your local doctor as you may infect others. Instead call your local doctor and take paracetamol for the fever. Do not take anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or cortisone to treat the possible symptoms of Covid-19 as these could actually worsen the infection.

If you have returned from a high risk area, including China (mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao); Singapore, South Korea, Iran or the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy, and present symptoms of respiratory infection such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing within 14 days of your return, call your local GP.

Do not go to your local hospital or doctor, or call the Samu 15 number except in a genuine, life-threatening emergency.

A free hotline service can answer your questions about the coronavirus Covid-19 non-stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 0800 130 000. It cannot give medical advice.

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