The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people against using the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, commonly used in livestock, as a treatment for COVID-19.
Ivermectin is not authorized or approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as a COVID-19 preventative or treatment. The drug is approved to treat some internal parasites in humans as well as topically for lice. A veterinary form of ivermectin is used on farms to treat parasites in livestock as well. That form is not meant for human consumption.
However, some people have been self-treating with both forms of ivermectin, experts say. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, cases of people using both formulations have increased in 2021, as have calls to poison control centers.
While there are ongoing clinical trials looking at the possibility of using ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19, the data has not shown effectiveness so far.
“It’s not a good idea to take any medication where there is no evidence of what it does because every medication has side effects we need to know about,” said Dr. Peter Millard, adjunct professor with the University of New England and former epidemiologist with the U.S. CDC.
According to the FDA, even levels of ivermectin for approved use in people can interact with other medications like blood-thinners. It’s also possible to overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, seizures and even death.
During the pandemic, according to a CDC alert issued today, requests for human grade ivermectin from retail pharmacies have increased along with the use of over-the-counter veterinary formulations.
Ivermectin marketed for livestock is very dangerous to humans. Animal drugs are often highly concentrated because they are intended for animals that weigh hundreds and even thousands of pounds more than people. Those kinds of doses in people can be toxic.
Animal medications also often contain inactive ingredients that may not be safe for people.
Millard said the ongoing studies of ivermectin could produce a better understanding of what — if any — help ivermectin may be in the fight against COVID. But in the meantime, don’t ingest it, despite its current popularity as a treatment for the pandemic virus.
“It is being used right now all over the world and some studies have shown it may be effective but others have shown that it’s not effective so it is not clear,” Millard said. “People are using it all over the world without good evidence it works.”