August 27, 2021

Don’t use ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. It is not approved and may be dangerous.

There is growing interest in a drug called ivermectin to treat COVID-19. This is not a “miracle cure” for COVID-19, and taking medication designed for animals can cause serious harm. Both the FDA and CDC have recently issued warnings about taking ivermectin to prevent COVID-19.

Given the rapid spread of the delta variant, it is understandable that people might want to take precautions against it. However, a parasite treatment for livestock is not the answer.

What you should know about Ivermectin

The FDA has not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing COVID-19. Ivermectin tablets are approved at very specific doses for treating some parasitic worms, and topically for treating external parasites like head lice and some skin conditions such as rosacea.

Ivermectin is a prescription medication, and should only be prescribed by your doctor. It should be taken exactly as prescribed.

The antiparasitic medication is generally safe in the approved dosage. It works by binding with proteins that are secreted by parasites that block the host’s immune system. By blocking these proteins, it allows the immune system to “see” the parasites and kill them. The SARS-Cov-2 virus does not use these proteins.

There is scant evidence that ivermectin can treat or prevent COVID-19. A recent review of 14 ivermectin studies, with more than 1,600 participants, concluded that none provided evidence of the drug’s ability to prevent Covid, improve patient conditions or reduce mortality.

How Ivermectin can be unsafe

While generally safe, large doses of ivermectin can be toxic to humans. Some forms of ivermectin are used to treat animals to prevent heartworm and certain internal and external parasites. These animal products, such as sheep drench or horse paste, are not safe for humans. They contain much larger doses intended for much larger animals. They may also contain ingredients that have not been evaluated for use in humans.

Clinical effects of ivermectin overdose include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Overdoses are associated with low blood pressure and neurologic effects such as decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, and death. Ivermectin may heighten the effects of other drugs that cause central nervous system depression such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

According to the CDC, examples of recent significant adverse effects reported to U.S. poison control centers include the following:

  • An adult drank an injectable ivermectin formulation intended for use in cattle in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 infection. This patient presented to a hospital with confusion, drowsiness,  visual hallucinations, tachypnea, and tremors. The patient recovered after being hospitalized for nine days.
  • An adult patient presented with altered mental status after taking ivermectin tablets of unknown strength purchased on the internet. The patient reportedly took five tablets a day for five days to treat COVID-19. The patient was disoriented and had difficulty answering questions and following commands. Symptoms improved with discontinuation of ivermectin after hospital admission.

Ivermectin is not a “miracle cure”

How did we get to this point?

In March of 2020, an in-vitro study from scientists in Australia indicated that ivermectin was an inhibitor of SARS-CoV-2. An in-vitro study means that the tests were done in a controlled environment, like a petri dish, and not in a person. In-vitro studies play an important role in early drug development so scientists can get an idea if the medication will work without having to monitor a whole organism. Many things kill viruses, bacteria and cancer cells in a petri dish but never make it to the next stage of research because it would be dangerous to inject into a living organism, like bleach for example.

In this case, the concentrations of ivermectin used to inhibit the coronavirus were so huge that it would be extremely toxic to people.

Other research that emerged about the efficacy of ivermectin was a study that used data from Surgisphere, the same group behind the hydroxychloroquine study that was retracted by The Lancet after there were serious concerns about the data used. This ivermectin study never made it beyond the pre-print stage and some academics have raised questions about the validity of the study.

Despite these concerns, ivermectin began to be used as a remedy for COVID-19 in Latin America. The demand for the dewormer increased dramatically in America after Pierre Kory, a critical care physician and conspiracy theorist, testified at the U.S. Senate promoting the erroneous claim that the antiparasitic medication was a “wonder drug” and the conspiracy theory that its true effectiveness was being suppressed by the "Gods of Science".

Misinformation can kill you

There’s a lot of misinformation around, and you may have heard that it’s okay to take large doses of ivermectin. That is wrong. 

Adverse effects associated with ivermectin misuse and overdose are increasing, as shown by arise in calls to poison control centers reporting overdoses and more people experiencing adverse effects. In July 2021, ivermectin calls have continued to sharply increase, to a five-fold increase from baseline. These reports are also associated with increased frequency of adverse effects and emergency department/hospital visits.

Seek immediate medical attention or call the poison control center hotline (1-800-222-1222) for advice if you have taken ivermectin or a product that contains ivermectin and are having symptoms. Signs and symptoms include gastrointestinal effects (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea), headache, blurred vision, dizziness, fast heart rate, and low blood pressure. Other severe nervous system effects have been reported, including tremors, seizures, hallucinations, confusion, loss of coordination and balance, decreased alertness, and coma.

Meanwhile, effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19 continue to be wearing your mask, staying at least 6 feet from others who don’t live with you, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowds. If you are looking for an FDA approved way to greatly reduce your chances of getting COVID-19, we have you covered.