Share on PinterestAn anti-parasitic drug shouldn’t be used to treat COVID-19, warns experts. LUIS ROBAYO / AFP via Getty Images
- The FDA warned that using ivermectin for veterinary purposes is dangerous and can have serious health consequences.
- Many studies have been conducted to find out if ivermectin can treat COVID-19, but experts say it has not yet provided any conclusive evidence.
- Ivermectin has been used in the past to treat parasitic infections in humans.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have searched for a shortcut to cure the disease for which there are few proven treatments.
Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning against using an anti-parasite drug called ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
“The FDA is concerned about the health of consumers who may self-medicate by taking ivermectin products for animals. They believe they can be a substitute for ivermectin for humans,” said an FDA statement. “These veterinary drugs can cause serious harm to humans.”
The FDA stressed that people should not take any form of ivermectin unless it has been prescribed for them by a licensed health care provider and obtained from a legitimate source.
Ivermectin was originally discovered in the 1970s and first used as a veterinary medicine to kill internal and external parasites in pets and farm animals. It is also currently used to treat parasitic infections in humans.
Ingesting a dose for pets or farm animals can cause serious health problems, although it is considered safe for humans when used as directed.
According to the Missouri Poison Center, there have been reports of intentional overdoses of ivermectin that can cause serious symptoms, including:
- Lung and heart problems
According to the FDA, increased interest in ivermectin for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 infection began with the announcement of a research article. The article described the effects of ivermectin on SARS-CoV-2 in a laboratory setting. It is important to note that ivermectin was not administered to humans or animals in this study.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) online clinical trial database shows 38 studies worldwide that include ivermectin as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
However, according to the database, many of them are still recruiting participants and few are in the United States.
The FDA emphasized that while ivermectin is being investigated in a laboratory, further research with conclusive data will be required before it is approved for use in the treatment of COVID-19.
Crucially, the FDA has not issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for ivermectin that would allow a drug under investigation to be used outside of a clinical trial.
Mangala Narasimhan, DO, director of Critical Care Services at Northwell Health in New York, told Healthline that several randomized and retrospective cohort studies of ivermectin use in patients with COVID-19 have been published or made available prior to peer review. However, the evidence for this is mixed.
“Some clinical studies showed no benefits or worsening of the disease after using ivermectin,” she said.
She noted that some studies reported improvements in recovery time that reduced levels of inflammation markers or the death rate in patients given ivermectin compared to other drugs or placebos.
“Most of these studies, however, had incomplete information and significant methodological limitations,” she explained.
According to Narasimhan, these limitations included small sample size, varying doses of ivermectin, and patients receiving other drugs with treatment.
Although self-administration of a dose of drug intended for animals is never safe, ivermectin has helped many people when used properly as prescribed by health care providers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said drug maker Merck (patent holder of ivermectin) recognized the drug’s potential for human use in the 1980s. Merck launched a drug donation program to combat river blindness (caused by a parasite), which has become the global model for philanthropic partnerships between pharmaceutical companies and countries that cannot afford drugs.
The WHO added that ivermectin has “valuable public health uses” for combating a roundworm disease called strongyloidiasis and scabies (caused by mites).
Paul E. Marik, MD, a professor of internal medicine in the Department of Lung and Intensive Care Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, said ivermectin is on the WHO list of essential drugs. He added it was one of the safest on the market, with “3.7 billion doses dispensed over the past 25 years with minimal side effects.”
The FDA warned that using ivermectin for veterinary purposes is dangerous and can have serious health consequences.
Many studies have been done to find out if ivermectin can treat COVID-19, but experts say it has not yet provided any conclusive evidence.
Experts also say that under medical supervision, ivermectin is safe and effective in the conditions it is intended to treat and may have a role against the novel coronavirus.