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5 Reasons You Shouldn't Take Ivermectin for COVID-19

Sep. 10, 2021

In case you missed it, ivermectin has officially entered the COVID-19 chat.

It's not a new drug, but the majority of us likely hadn't heard of it prior to the pandemic — although the name might ring a bell for many pet owners.

Discovered in 1975, ivermectin is used to treat parasitic infections in people, prevent heartworms in pets, and as a dewormer in horses.

But now? Whether scrolling your news feed or watching the news, chances are you'll see or hear something about it.

So what does ivermectin have to do with COVID-19? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Based on early-stage laboratory research and a now-retracted preprint article, there are many who believe it may be a silver bullet against the virus that's disrupted our lives for the last year and a half.

In fact, a recent study found that ivermectin dispensed from U.S. pharmacies increased from an average of 3,600 prescriptions per week prepandemic to more than 88,000 prescriptions per week in mid-August.

What's more is that it's not just prescription ivermectin usage that's increased. According to the CDC, usage of over-the-counter veterinary formulations of ivermectin are up, too. This is, of course, concerning since animal medications aren't intended for human use.

As far as scientists and public health experts are concerned, however, ivermectin has little, if anything, to offer against COVID-19.

Still, you want the facts.

Here are five reasons you shouldn't consider taking ivermectin to prevent or treat COVID-19:

1. There's no evidence that ivermectin is effective against COVID-19

First, let's break down what we know (but mostly don't know) from the studies that proponents of the drug point to.

The research study showing that ivermectin can kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus was performed in petri dishes and test tubes. This stage of research is called in vitro study — which, in the science world, translates to an experiment performed outside of the normal biological context. In Latin, in vitro quite literally translates to "within the glass."

In the grand scheme of drug discovery and validation, in vitro studies play an enormous role. But many, many more steps — from preclinical studies to clinical trials — are needed before a drug that worked well in a test tube can actually be considered safe and effective in people.

As for the now-retracted preprint publication that supported ivermectin use in people with COVID-19, the data was ultimately found to be unreliable via the scientific peer-review process.

So, does any data currently exist to support taking ivermectin for COVID-19?

No.

In fact, the CDC has stated that, "clinical trials and observational studies to evaluate the use of ivermectin to prevent and treat COVID-19 in humans have yielded insufficient evidence for the NIH COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel to recommend its use."

A few clinical trials are still ongoing, however.

2. Ivermectin isn't authorized or approved for COVID-19 prevention or treatment

There are FDA-approved uses of ivermectin, but preventing and treating COVID-19 isn't one of them.

And given that the FDA has a special program designed specifically to move new COVID-19 treatments to people as quickly and safely as possible — called the Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program (CTAP) — but has not authorized or approved of the use of ivermectin for COVID-19, the agency's stance is clear: Ivermectin has not been shown to be safe or effective at preventing or treating COVID-19.

The agency also takes a firm stance on self-medicating with ivermectin products intended for animals by saying, "people should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular animal species for which they are labeled."

3. There can be dangerous side effects to taking ivermectin

Taking a medication in an unintended manner doesn't come without risks.

In fact, adverse effects associated with ivermectin misuse and overdose are increasing, as shown by a rise in calls to poison control centers related to these issues.

First, taking large doses of ivermectin can result in dangerous side effects. And even approved dosages can result in harmful cross reactions with other medications you may be taking, such as blood thinners to manage heart disease.

Additionally, taking a veterinary formulation of ivermectin can lead to toxic overdose, especially if the product is intended for large animals. Veterinary medications may also contain inactive ingredients that aren't proven to be safe for humans.

If you've taken ivermectin and are experiencing concerning symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.

Signs and symptoms of ivermectin toxicity include:

  • Gastrointestinal effects, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Faster than usual heart rate (also called tachycardia)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hallucinations, altered mental status and confusion
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Central nervous system depression
  • Seizures

You can also call the poison control center hotline (800.222.1222) for medical management advice.

4. We already have effective, safe ways to stay safe from COVID-19

There's no evidence that ivermectin can prevent COVID-19.

But, there are other ways to protect yourself and others, including:

If you're not yet vaccinated and are nervous to do so, consulting with your primary care doctor can help resolve any lingering feelings of unease you may have. He or she can explain how the vaccines work, the mild side effects that may occur and the benefits of vaccination, as well as provide tips on how to deal with vaccine anxiety and decision-making.

And, if you've recently been exposed to COVID-19, you may be eligible to receive preventive monoclonal antibodies, a post-exposure treatment authorized by the FDA.

5. We have authorized and approved treatments for COVID-19

There's also no evidence that ivermectin can help reduce the severity of COVID-19.

The good news, though, is that several FDA-approved and authorized treatments exist, including:

If you've recently tested positive for COVID-19, find out if you're eligible to receive monoclonal antibody therapy.

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