Fact check: Ivermectin is not a proven treatment for COVID-19
The claim: Ivermectin is an effective treatment for COVID-19
Several US states have logged 1 million coronavirus cases as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to wreak havoc across the country. To slow the spread of the virus, public health officials are encouraging Americans to get vaccinated.
But on social media, some have hatched a different plan to treat COVID-19: using anti-parasite products designed for farm animals.
“Less than an hour after taking Ivermectin paste per my body weight I was mostly symptom free,” reads an August 8 testimonial on Facebook. “Was in bad shape until then!”
The post, which includes a photo of an apple-flavoured paste for treating parasites in horses, only accumulated about 200 shares within three days. But similar posts touting ivermectin have been widely shared across platforms, and farm supply stores across the country are running low on anti-parasitics for horses, cows and pigs.
“[Hydroxychloroquine] and treatments like ivermectin cure coronavirus within days. Always has,” an Instagram user wrote on August 4.
“There is no evidence that ivermectin is effective for treatment,” Dr Krutika Kuppalli, an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, said in an email.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the claim for comment. One of them, Shayne Ward, said in a Facebook message that he’s heard “countless stories of people that Ivermectin has helped get over COVID”.
“Fact Check that!” he wrote.
Ivermectin not proven to treat COVID-19
Ivermectin has been promoted as a COVID-19 cure throughout the pandemic. Scientists are still studying whether the drug could be used as a treatment, but so far there’s little data to suggest it’s effective against COVID-19.
Ivermectin is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat certain kinds of parasites and neglected tropical diseases, including scabies and parasitic worms. It is not approved to treat any viruses.
Some limited studies have suggested ivermectin could help treat COVID-19. But other, more rigorous research has found little or no impact.
“The reason for the interest in ivermectin is that studies in the lab have shown it can block viruses from multiplying in experimental settings — i.e. in a petri dish — and so people hoped this would mean it could help treat COVID-19 in people too,” Dr Denise McCulloch, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, said in an email. “Unfortunately, the few high-quality studies that have been done to date do not demonstrate a beneficial effect of ivermectin when it is used in people with COVID-19.”
Two of the highest-quality studies available include a double-blind, randomised trial in Colombia and a meta-analysis of 14 studies involving more than 1600 participants, McCulloch said.
The Colombia study found that, among adults with mild COVID-19 cases, a five-day course of ivermectin “did not significantly improve the time to resolution of symptoms”. The meta-analysis, published in late July, concluded that “the reliable evidence available does not support the use of ivermectin for treatment or prevention of COVID‐19 outside of well‐designed randomised trials”.
Those findings have been clouded by the publication of lower-quality studies and research with potential sources of bias, experts say.
One non-peer reviewed study cited widely by ivermectin proponents was posted on Research Square in November. The preprint platform withdrew the study in July “due to an expression of concern communicated directly to our staff”.
A peer-reviewed meta-analysis of 15 trials, published in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Therapeutics, found that “large reductions in COVID-19 deaths are possible using ivermectin”.
But experts told PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking outlet, that some of the trials the study included were not high-quality, and some of its authors were affiliated with a pro-ivermectin group.
Absent more randomised, controlled clinical trials, scientists remain sceptical about the benefits of ivermectin in treating COVID-19.
“To extrapolate from how much drug is needed to work in the test tube to how much is required to work in a human being against the virus makes these trials and all the meta-reviews published less than worthless — it’s dangerous,” Dr Benhur Lee, a microbiology professor at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, said in an email.
Officials say drug should ‘only be used within clinical trials’
Public health officials and pharmaceutical companies have advised against taking ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
The FDA said in April 2020 that people should not take ivermectin unless it’s “prescribed to them by a licensed health care provider and is obtained through a legitimate source”. The agency reiterated that position in March.
“The FDA has not reviewed data to support use of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients to treat or to prevent COVID-19; however, some initial research is underway,” the FDA says on its website. “Taking a drug for an unapproved use can be very dangerous.”
The FDA warns that ivermectin products for animals can be toxic to humans due to their high concentration of the drug. ABC News reported in February that there had been an uptick in calls to poison control centres related to ivermectin.
The World Health Organisation has also warned against using ivermectin to treat COVID-19, saying the drug should “only be used within clinical trials.” Merck, the pharmaceutical company that makes ivermectin, said in February it had found “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies”.
Clinical trials studying whether ivermectin could be used to treat COVID-19 are ongoing. Until those trials conclude, experts told USA TODAY it’s tough to say with certainty how the drug affects COVID-19 patients.
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