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Health experts continue to caution people not to use the veterinary formulation of ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19. Nikola Stojadinovic/Getty Images
  • Multiple health groups are warning physicians not to treat COVID-19 patients with the drug ivermectin.
  • The antiparasitic drug is approved to treat certain conditions in humans, but it’s also used as veterinary medication for large animals.
  • The warning is similar to statements from the Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, and even the drugmaker itself, Merck.
  • Health experts stress that vaccines and proven treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, are by far the best, and safest, available options to prevent and treat COVID-19.
  • Misuse of the veterinary formulation of ivermectin can lead to serious neurological side effects and even death.

Major medical groups are warning physicians not to treat COVID-19 patients with the drug ivermectin.

The drug has been making headlines as social media posts and celebrities have pushed the drug as a treatment for COVID-19, despite no evidence it would help treat the disease.

In Mississippi, authorities said people taking a veterinary form of ivermectin led to an increase in calls to the poison control center. The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) recently issued a warning against using the veterinary formulation of ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19.

MSDH warned that animal drugs are “highly concentrated for large animals” and can be highly toxic when used for humans.

“As we continue to learn about the COVID-19 virus and treatment modalities, it has become more common for people to turn to the internet to find out about treatments and preventative measures,” Teresa Murray Amato, MD, chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York, told Healthline.

The American Medical Association (AMA) issued a joint statement this month with the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) “strongly opposing” the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

“We are alarmed by reports that outpatient prescribing for and dispensing of ivermectin have increased 24-fold since before the pandemic and increased exponentially over the past few months. As such, we are calling for an immediate end to the prescribing, dispensing, and use of ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial,” reads the statement.

The health groups “strongly urge” people to get vaccinated. They point out that the most effective ways to limit COVID-19 transmission are to get vaccinated, wear a face mask, stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people in public places, wash hands frequently, and avoid large crowds of people.

A judge ruled Sept. 6 that an Ohio hospital cannot be forced to give a patient ivermectin for COVID-19, reported NBC News, reversing an earlier decision that ordered the hospital to administer the antiparasitic medication.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster Jr. ruled the drug isn’t an effective treatment for COVID-19. He wrote that there “was no doubt that the medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19,” reported NBC.

According to NBC, the judge cited problems with research regarding ivermectin to treat COVID-19, which included withdrawal of a non-peer-reviewed study from a website that posts academic preprints.

“The most safe and effective way to prevent a COVID-19 infection is through vaccination,” Amato emphasized. “If you suspect that you may have or have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, please contact your doctor as soon as possible to discuss a proper and safe treatment plan.”

She added that there are medications available that have emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating COVID-19, such as monoclonal antibody infusions.

According to the FDA, monoclonal antibodies are synthetic proteins that “mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses.”

The agency specified casirivimab and imdevimab as monoclonal antibodies specifically directed against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and designed to block the virus’s attachment and entry into human cells.

“The emergency authorization of these monoclonal antibodies administered together offers health care providers another tool in combating the pandemic,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a statement.

“We will continue to facilitate the development, evaluation, and availability of COVID-19 therapies,” she said.

An FDA advisory states ivermectin tablets are only approved by the agency to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms.

However, some topical forms of ivermectin are also approved to treat head lice and skin conditions like rosacea.

“Ivermectin is an injectable parasiticidal drug, used predominantly in farm animals,” said Greg Nelson, DVM, director of surgery and diagnostic imaging at Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream, New York.

Nelson cautioned that the drug is able to cross the blood-brain barrier and can have neurological side effects, including seizures.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

  • People should never take animal drugs, as the FDA has only evaluated their safety and effectiveness in the particular animal species for which they’re intended.
  • People shouldn’t take any form of ivermectin unless it was prescribed by a licensed healthcare professional and obtained through legitimate sources.

The FDA cautions that even doses of ivermectin for approved uses can interact with other medications, like blood thinners.

“You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death,” the FDA stated in a consumer update.

According to the MSDH alert, most callers to Mississippi’s poison control center experienced mild symptoms, although one person was advised to seek further evaluation due to the amount of ivermectin they reported ingesting.

In a February statement, Merck, the manufacturer of ivermectin, said the company’s scientists continue to examine the findings of all available and emerging studies of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19 for any evidence of efficacy and safety.

According to Merck, it’s important to note that, to date, its analysis has identified:

  • no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from preclinical studies
  • no meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in people with COVID-19
  • a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies

“We do not believe that the data available support the safety and efficacy of ivermectin beyond the doses and populations indicated in the regulatory agency-approved prescribing information,” the drugmaker concluded.

Major medical groups are warning against using a drug commonly used by veterinarians as a way to treat COVID-19.

Experts say that veterinary medications like ivermectin are highly concentrated, and ivermectin can cause neurological effects that include seizures.

The drug is approved to treat certain parasitic worms in humans, but at a very different dose and with a risk of potential side effects, including neurological side effects.

Experts say the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated.

If a person gets COVID-19 or is exposed to the coronavirus, hospitals and clinics do have some authorized treatments available, including monoclonal antibodies.