Ivermectin, a drug traditionally used to treat or prevent parasitic infection in animals, has made headlines again after a pharmaceutical company based in Japan said the drug appeared to have an antiviral effect in a non-clinical study.
Headlines about ivermectin have stirred up controversy throughout the pandemic.
Though approved in small, specific doses for parasitic worms in humans, the drug is not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use against COVID-19.
But some people, including podcaster Joe Rogan, have self-treated their coronavirus infections with ivermectin and spread misinformation that it’s effective.
The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have needed urgent medical attention or hospitalization after experimenting with the drug at home.
The drug is known to cause adverse reactions in humans — like headache, nausea, and even seizures — and the current evidence does not support the use of ivermectin outside of clinical trials.
Clinical trials evaluating ivermectin use in humans are ongoing, but those results aren’t yet available.
“There is a due process to assess therapeutics,” said Dr. Jorge Salinas, an infectious diseases doctor with Stanford University. “At this moment, there is not enough clinical evidence to support the routine use of ivermectin.”
According to Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director of the National Capital Poison Center, ivermectin has been explored as an antiviral drug since it appears to affect certain mechanisms related to viral cell growth and development.
In laboratory studies not involving humans, ivermectin has previously been found to inhibit the production of HIV and dengue viruses.
Due to these previous findings, the drug was tested against SARS-CoV-2.
One laboratory study found that ivermectin may be able to reduce COVID-19 infection — but it’s crucial to note that this was an in-vitro (or test tube study) that did not involve humans, according to Johnson-Arbor.
“It’s important to understand that a drug such as ivermectin may be effective against COVID-19 infection in a test tube in-vitro study, but that does not mean that it will have the same effect in humans,” Johnson-Arbor said.
Some people have taken those findings to mean that the drug can treat COVID-19, but there are many critical differences between in-vitro studies and human studies.
Several clinical studies around the world are evaluating the use of ivermectin for COVID-19, but those results from many of these studies aren’t yet available.
“The data needs to be peer-reviewed and published before the scientific and medical community can provide an informed opinion,” said Salinas. “At this point, the currently available data do not support its use.”
Low doses of ivermectin can cause unwanted side effects, including headache, nausea, swelling, skin rashes, and dizziness.
According to Johnson-Arbor, some people may develop visual changes.
Ivermectin can also interact with other medications, like blood thinners.
Ingesting large doses of ivermectin can lead to severe consequences.
“At higher doses, ivermectin can have toxic effects on the brain and cause neurological symptoms including confusion and difficulty walking,” said Johnson-Arbor.
Overdosing on ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, seizures, coma, and even death.
“There have been reports of ivermectin toxicity in people not using it under medical supervision,” said Salinas.
Furthermore, the ivermectin tablets used for animals are different from those used for treating parasitic worms in humans.
Taking the drugs intended for animals is dangerous.
“For now, given the lack of quality evidence supporting its use and the known risks of the drug, the use of ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 infection is not recommended,” Johnson-Arbor said.
A pharmaceutical company based in Japan said that ivermectin was shown to have an antiviral effect against the coronavirus in a new, non-clinical study. But infectious diseases doctors say this does not change the fact that the current evidence does not support the use of ivermectin for COVID-19.
There are known risks associated with the drug, and though clinical trials evaluating the drug are ongoing, there isn’t enough data to recommend taking the drug to treat COVID-19.
The Healthline News team is committed to delivering content that adheres to the highest editorial standards for accuracy, sourcing, and objective analysis. Every news article is thoroughly fact-checked by members of our Integrity Network. Furthermore, we have a zero-tolerance policy regarding any level of plagiarism or malicious intent from our writers and contributors.
All Healthline News articles adhere to the following standards:
- All referenced studies and research papers must be from reputable and relevant peer-reviewed journals or academic associations.
- All studies, quotes, and statistics used in a news article must link to or reference the original source. The article must also clearly indicate why any statistics presented are relevant.
- All content related to new treatments, drugs, procedures, and so on must clearly describe availability, pricing, side effects, treatment target (e.g., HER2+), known interactions, and off-label use, if appropriate.
- All news articles must include original commentary from at least two qualified sources with appropriate credentials and links to relevant associations or published works.
- Any potential conflicts of interest related to a study or source must be clearly indicated to the reader.
- All news articles must include appropriate background information and context for the specific condition or topic.