As the highly transmissible omicron variant fuels a surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, treatment advice has ramped up on social media.
Some users are warning against the use of Tylenol, with claims that it does more harm than good.
Tylenol “ruins your ability to kill the virus,” one Instagram post said, adding that an infected person with a fever is better off letting it run its course.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Tylenol is an over-the-counter brand of pain reliever and fever reducer containing acetaminophen. The same ingredient is found in various other brands of pain relievers and over-the-counter medicines.
We couldn’t find any evidence that the medication “ruins” the body’s ability to neutralize the virus. While a high temperature can help the body fight off a virus, doctors say, running a high fever could also be dangerous. The other claims in the post about Tylenol’s effects are also exaggerated.
Treating COVID-19 at home
We’ll first note that it’s best to take medical advice from health care professionals, not from random social media posts, regardless of whether the poster has “Dr.” in their username. Ben Lynch, the man who posted this image, is a naturopathic doctor who does not have a medical degree.
Fever is one symptom of a COVID-19 infection, along with cough and shortness of breath. Common symptoms associated with the omicron variant include a headache, runny nose and sore throat, according to health officials.
To treat COVID-19 symptoms at home, Harvard Medical School recommends taking acetaminophen to reduce fever and ease aches, as well as getting enough rest and staying hydrated. But if you are taking any combination cold or flu medicine, keep track of all the ingredients and doses, the medical school says, and don’t exceed a total of 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day. One regular-strength Tylenol tablet has 325 milligrams of acetaminophen.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends rest and fluids for treating COVID-19, as well as cough medication and pain relievers such as Tylenol or ibuprofen. For otherwise healthy people — and not specifically for coronavirus — the medical center offers general tips on whether to treat a fever or let it run its course. For example, for adults with a temperature above 102, Mayo recommends acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin.
There is some scientific discussion about the potential value of fevers for fighting infection, but experts we spoke with told us they haven’t seen anything to suggest that fevers resulting from COVID-19 infections should be treated any differently than those stemming from other infections.
“It’s true that fever is an immune mechanism that enhances the ability of the body to clear infections, and treatment of mild fever with acetaminophen is not always necessary,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “However, fevers can be poorly tolerated in some individuals, so acetaminophen is indicated.”
Taking Tylenol before getting a vaccine may initially lower the amount of antibodies a person produces, Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi, an emergency room physician and former health adviser to the Obama administration, told PolitiFact. So many doctors recommend against people taking Tylenol before their shots.
But there is no strong evidence that the medication affects long-term immune response, and physicians typically recommend taking Tylenol after a vaccine shot, or to treat symptoms from a COVID-19 infection.
“It has not been shown to cause a decrease in the immune response,” Fagbuyi said.
He added that fevers are the body’s way of fighting an infection and not all are bad, but the post’s language about Tylenol “ruining” the body’s ability to kill the virus is inaccurate.
Everyone is different, and health experts told us that people should discuss treatment with their doctor.
Tylenol can have harmful effects, including liver damage, if it’s taken in excess of recommended doses, or in combination with other drugs.
“Severe damage could occur if people take more than 4 grams of acetaminophen in 24 hours,” Dr. Ke-Qin Hu, a liver disease specialist at the University of California, Irvine, said in a post about the drug. Even less can cause problems if the medicine is taken with alcohol, he added.
But the Instagram post doesn’t include any caveats about dosage in declaring Tylenol “the worst thing you can use.”
An Instagram post claims that Tylenol ruins people’s ability to fight off COVID-19.
There’s no evidence that Tylenol does that. Health officials have recommended the use of Tylenol and other fever-lowering medications to treat COVID-19 symptoms. Sometimes people can let a fever run its course, medical experts said, but doing so can be dangerous in certain situations.
Tylenol can have serious side effects when taken in excess of recommended doses. But the post doesn’t mention dosage.
We rate this claim False.
This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.