The antiparasitic drug ivermectin does not reduce the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19, a large study has concluded.
Despite its popularity since the beginning of the pandemic as an easy-to-use and effective option to block the coronavirus (even recommended by some doctors), experts say that using it for this purpose has no benefit.
In early April 2020, a couple of months after the start of the pandemic was announced, a group of Australian researchers published in Antiviral Research an investigation in which they indicated that ivermectin could inhibit the replication of SARS-CoV-2 (virus responsible for coronavirus disease) in cell cultures.
“Ivermectin warrants further investigation into possible benefits in humans,” said the team led by Kylie Wagstaff, of Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Nearly two years later, a large study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, ruled out the antiparasitic as an effective option against COVID-19. This conclusion was reached after comparing the responses to treatments with ivermectin or placebo in more than 1,300 people infected with coronavirus in Brazil.
“Ivermectin treatment did not result in a lower incidence of medical admission to a hospital for progression of COVID-19 or prolonged observation in the emergency department among outpatients with early diagnosis of COVID-19,” the study authors stated.
To reach these results, the researchers carried out double-blind treatments, that is, neither the patients nor the medical staff knew if they were receiving a placebo or drugs to treat COVID.
Between March and August 2021, the researchers administered ivermectin to 679 patients over the course of three days. The results were clear: Taking ivermectin did not reduce the risk of a COVID-19 patient ending up in the hospital.
- Is the COVID-19 pandemic about to end? Or not?
Different groups of volunteers were even evaluated, to whom, for example, ivermectin was administered at the beginning of the infection (when, according to its defenders, it is most effective in blocking COVID). However, this group turned out to have even worse results than the placebo group.
“There really is no sign of any benefit,” he said in a post by New York Times Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, who participated in the study.
He added: “Now that people can dive into the details and data, hopefully this will steer most doctors away from ivermectin.”
What is ivermectin?
Ivermectin is a widely used antiparasitic drug in people and animals. It has defined doses to maintain a pattern of tolerance and safety for already known uses.
For example, in humans it is used in tablet form to treat diseases caused by parasites, such as elephantiasis or onchocerciasis, two debilitating diseases that are very common among people living in the poorest regions of Africa.
It is also useful against roundworms, including roundworms, which are very common in children and adults living under conditions of poor hygiene, and can be used in the form of a cream against rosacea.
In the veterinary field, it is usually used by injection, and, to a lesser extent, orally in horses, cattle, sheep, dogs and cats, to combat nematodiasis, ticks and scabies, among others.
Ivermectin is considered one of the most useful medicines ever discovered and is often referred to as a “revolutionary drug.”
This is because it has contributed to the virtual elimination of onchocerciasis, also called “river blindness”, in Africa, a disease that, as its name indicates, is one of the main causes of blindness on the continent.
Ivermectin is also sometimes used to treat certain other parasitic infections, head or pubic lice infestation, and scabies (itchy skin condition caused by tiny mites that live under the skin).
Concern about its use
Despite the properties of ivermectin, experts point out that using it to treat conditions in which its effectiveness is not proven (as is the case with COVID) can cause different side effects:
- Swelling, especially of the face and extremities.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dizziness, confusion, and seizures.
- Serious hospitalization.
Currently, ivermectin is only approved for use in humans for the treatment of some parasitic worms (intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis) or for external parasites such as lice and skin conditions such as rosacea. Always under medical recommendation and supervision.
Although there are still several ongoing randomized trials of ivermectin with thousands of volunteers (who did not share their results), to date there is no authorization or significant evidence to support the use of this antiparasitic preventively or as a treatment against COVID-19 .
Sources consulted: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Antiviral Research, US National Library of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The New England Journal of Medicine.