Ask the Pharmacist Your COVID-19 Questions

Published: February 03, 2021
Revised: February 16, 2023
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

Pharmacists are medication experts and the most accessible healthcare providers. Nearly 90% of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. Pharmacists are trained to review all medications and identify medication problems. They also administer vaccines and conduct health and wellness screenings. Pharmacists are an excellent source of information for any questions you might have about your over-the-counter (OTC), prescription medications, and vaccines.

I’ve heard several names used for COVID-19. What are the differences?
Viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names. For example, HIV is the virus that causes the disease AIDS. Coronavirus refers to a group of viruses that primarily cause breathing-related problems, including the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). COVID-19 is the disease caused by this previously unknown or novel coronavirus. Scientists have named the new coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

How do you get infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19?

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person. The spread is thought to be through respiratory droplets that are made when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and airborne droplets then land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. If the droplets land on surfaces, then they may enter your body when you touch those surfaces with your hand then touch your mouth, nose, and eyes. However, scientists are investigating other ways that the virus may be spread.

How do I avoid getting infected?
Here are the most important things you can do to prevent infection from COVID-19:

  • Get any of the COVID-19 vaccines for you and your children (ages 6 months and older). When you are eligible, be sure to also get the bivalent booster dose, even if you have had previous booster doses.  The bivalent booster protects against the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the more recent Omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5.
  • You (and anyone 2 years of age and older) should wear a mask to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Stay away from people who are sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you leave your home, wash your hands as soon as you come back inside. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Be sure to also wash your hands after blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Why do I need to wear a face mask if I don’t feel sick?
People with COVID-19 who have no symptoms or have not yet developed symptoms can still spread the virus to others. Wearing a mask helps to block the droplets that are created when you talk, cough, or sneeze, and that may contain the virus, from landing on nearby surfaces or being inhaled by others nearby.

Can antibiotics help treat or prevent COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an infection caused by a virus. Antibiotics should be used only to treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics don’t work on viral infections. Therefore, antibiotics will not treat COVID-19 and should be used only if you have a bacterial infection.

Although both viruses and bacteria can cause infections, often with similar symptoms, they are very different. Bacteria are larger and can survive and reproduce on their own. Viruses need a host, such as a human or an animal, to survive and reproduce.

Is it safe to take ibuprofen if I have a mild case of COVID-19?
Common symptoms of a mild case of COVID-19 include fever and body aches, which can be relieved by taking OTC medications. Some news stories warned against taking ibuprofen to reduce your fever and alleviate body aches.

Ibuprofen is an OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever. There is a speculative link between how ibuprofen works and the receptors that the coronavirus uses to infect a person, potentially leading to increased infection and worse outcomes in COVID-19 patients. This has led to theories that ibuprofen should not be used in patients with COVID-19.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement that it is not aware of scientific evidence connecting the use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, with worsening COVID-19 symptoms. The World Health Organization, which first advised against using ibuprofen, has updated its advice and now does not recommend against the use of ibuprofen.

There is currently no evidence to support an association between ibuprofen and negative outcomes in patients with COVID-19.

Can my blood pressure medication make me more susceptible to getting COVID-19? Should I stop taking it?
No. You should never stop taking your medications unless directed by your doctor or pharmacist.

Several reports have suggested that the place where coronaviruses attach to cells is enhanced in people who take certain medications for blood pressure called angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs), and these patients are therefore at an increased risk of a COVID-19 infection.

Alternatively, other reports suggest that ACE inhibitors or ARBs may protect against lung damage or may have a reduced effect in terms of virus binding.

At this time, there is no clinical evidence of harm or benefit with regards to COVID-19 infection in people taking these medications. There is a clinical trial underway to review the effects of the ACE inhibitor losartan on the heart, kidneys, and lungs of adults hospitalized with COVID-19. 

The American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the Heart Failure Society of America, and the European Society of Cardiology recommend that people who are currently taking these medications should continue taking them. If you have specific questions, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medications.

Will taking vitamin D protect me from getting COVID-19?
There is not clear evidence from studies that taking vitamin D supplements will prevent or treat COVID-19. Experts at NIH say that there is insufficient evidence to recommend either for or against use of vitamin D supplements for prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

They do recommend that all individuals should continue to follow current recommendations for daily vitamin D supplementation to maintain bone and muscle health during the pandemic, especially for those people who are unable spend the recommended amount of time in direct sunlight. The recommended amount is approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure, particularly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., either daily or at least twice a week to the face, arms, hands, and legs without sunscreen.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion in the news about taking ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. Is this safe?
Ivermectin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a tablet to be taken by mouth to treat specific infections caused by parasitic worms and also as lotion to treat head lice. However, it is not approved to prevent or treat the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and should not be used to do so, unless you are enrolled in a clinical study.

A flawed clinical trial initially provided false hope for ivermectin as an effective COVID-19 treatment in humans, but the study was found to have unreliable results and other ethical concerns.  As of now, there is not credible evidence from clinical studies to support the use of ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Additionally, you should never use ivermectin products intended for veterinary purposes to treat or prevent COVID-19. These products are highly concentrated for large animals and pose a significant risk for humans for toxicity and harmful side effects. Lastly, you should avoid obtaining ivermectin from alternative sources, such as the internet.

At this time, the most effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19 are to get vaccinated and boosted, wear a face mask, wash hands frequently, and avoid large crowds of people, especially indoor gatherings.

Note: The information contained in this article is emerging and rapidly evolving because of ongoing research. Talk to your pharmacist or other healthcare provider if you have any questions about your medications, COVID-19, or other health issues.

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