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Ivermectin is a prescription medication doctors use to treat several types of parasitic infections. At one point, researchers were also examining ivermectin’s potential for treating or preventing COVID-19.

Inaccurate rumors about ivermectin spread on social media — as did rumors about another antiparasitic medication, hydroxychloroquine.

Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other rheumatic conditions. Ivermectin is not used in this way. Neither medication is currently recommended for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19.

If you have RA, you should be able to take ivermectin to treat a parasitic infection like river blindness (onchocerciasis) or intestinal strongyloidiasis. But it’s important that you talk with a doctor before starting any new medication.

Keep reading to learn more about ivermectin, including what it’s used for, whether it’s an effective treatment for COVID-19, and whether it’s safe for people with RA.

Ivermectin is an antiparasitic medication. It’s not used to treat RA or COVID-19.

In 2015, researchers William Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura won the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for their discovery of an antiparasitic drug called avermectin.

The discovery was a major feat for public health because it dramatically reduced rates of parasitic infections, like river blindness, which has been a longtime issue in many developing tropical nations.

Ivermectin is a derivative of avermectin. It’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the parasitic worms that cause river blindness (onchocerciasis) and intestinal strongyloidiasis.

Ivermectin is also FDA-approved in topical form to treat some external parasites, like head lice, and certain skin conditions, like rosacea.

It’s also used to treat and prevent parasitic infections in animals.

Hydroxychloroquine is another drug people have used off-label to try to prevent or treat COVID-19.

Like ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine is primarily used to treat and prevent parasitic infections. It’s FDA-approved to treat and prevent malaria, a parasitic infection transmitted by mosquitoes.

Unlike ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine is regularly used to treat RA.

Hydroxychloroquine is considered a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) when used to treat arthritis. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce pain and swelling. It can also help prevent joint damage and long-term disability.

The FDA had previously granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine to treat severe cases of COVID-19 in people who were hospitalized for the condition.

However, that status was revoked after research found that hydroxychloroquine was unlikely to be as effective at treating COVD-19 as was initially believed.

The National Institutes of Health’s COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines now advise people not to use hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19.

A 2020 study from England found no evidence that people with RA who were taking hydroxychloroquine before the pandemic had better outcomes when they got COVID-19 than people not taking hydroxychloroquine.

Ivermectin seems to be safe for most people with RA when used as prescribed. But it’s very important to talk with a doctor before starting ivermectin to make sure it’s safe for you.

In a 2015 study, the Brazilian Society of Rheumatology examined treatments for intestinal parasitic infections in people with rheumatic autoimmune diseases like RA, lupus, and spondylarthritis.

According to the study, ivermectin is the treatment of choice for several intestinal parasitic infections affecting people with rheumatic autoimmune diseases.

Ivermectin should not be used to treat COVID-19 unless prescribed for this purpose as part of a clinical trial.

Dangers of using ivermectin to prevent COVID-19

In August 2021, 21 people called Oregon Poison Center after taking ivermectin. About half of these people took ivermectin to prevent COVID-19, and the other half used it to treat COVID-19 symptoms. Out of these 21 people, 17 had purchased formulas meant for animals.

Six of the people were hospitalized from toxicity. Four more received treatment in an intensive care unit. One of them developed seizures.

If you’ve taken ivermectin and experience signs of toxicity, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clinical trials have shown that ivermectin is not effective at treating or preventing COVID-19.

Some early studies with human participants found evidence that ivermectin may be an effective treatment, but these studies had flaws in their methodologies that made them prone to bias. Most studies since have found no benefit.

For example, a 2021 study from Colombia found that taking ivermectin for 5 days did not significantly improve symptom duration in people with mild COVID-19 compared with a placebo.

A 2021 study from Argentina found that ivermectin had no significant effect on preventing hospitalizations for people with COVID-19.

Likewise, two 2022 studies published in highly regarded journals found no benefit.

In the first study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found no evidence that ivermectin prevented disease progression in high risk people with mild to moderate COVID-19.

A larger study from Brazil, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found ivermectin didn’t lower rates of hospital admission due to COVID-19 progression.

People with RA seem to have an elevated risk of developing COVID-19. In a 2021 study, researchers found that people with RA had a higher risk of developing all of the following:

  • severe COVID-19
  • COVID-19-related death
  • hospitalization for COVID-19
  • serious complications of COVID-19, such as sepsis, blood clots, and strokes

You can lower your chances of developing COVID-19 by:

  • staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations and other vaccinations
  • wearing a well-fitted mask in public, especially in crowded indoor areas with poor ventilation
  • avoiding poorly ventilated areas and crowds as much as possible
  • washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or with hand sanitizer when soap isn’t available
  • avoiding contact with people who are ill
  • staying 6 feet (2 meters) away from others

Vaccine and booster guidelines

Making sure your vaccinations are up to date is particularly important when you have an autoimmune disease like RA.

It’s the stance of the American College of Rheumatology that all people without known allergies to ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines should get vaccinated.

According to their vaccine and booster guidelines:

  • Unvaccinated people should receive either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, not the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • A third vaccine dose is recommended at least 28 days after receiving the two primary doses.
  • People who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines should get a booster 5 months after their third dose.
  • People who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a booster shot should receive another booster 2 months after the second shot.
  • Some people may develop symptom flare-ups after vaccination, but the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the potential risks.
  • It may be helpful to alter the timing of certain medications while undergoing vaccination, but you don’t make any changes without first consulting a doctor.
Was this helpful?

Ivermectin is a medication FDA-approved to treat some parasitic infections. Researchers have examined its potential for preventing and treating COVID-19 but found it’s not beneficial.

Ivermectin does not treat RA, but hydroxychloroquine, another medication being studied for COVID-19, does. However, if you have RA and a parasitic infection, your doctor may prescribe ivermectin.

People with RA seem to have an elevated risk of developing COVID-19. It’s particularly important for people with RA to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations and take steps to avoid infections.