JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Health experts and medical groups are trying to stop claims that a medicine used to treat parasites in farm animals can help combat COVID-19.
There are a few reasons why medical organizations are calling on people not to take ivermectin and for doctors to stop prescribing it: It’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19, the FDA says taking large doses of the drug is dangerous, and a National Institutes of Health panel found there’s “insufficient evidence” for or against the drug for COVID-19.
“This is something that has become a misinformation campaign that is so well done, it is tricking people into believing there is some benefit with this medication,” said Dr. Chirag Patel, with UF Health Jacksonville.
By mid-August U.S. pharmacies were filling 88,000 weekly prescriptions for the medication, a 24-fold increase from pre-COVID levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, U.S. poison control centers have seen a five-fold increase in emergency calls related to the drug, with some incidents requiring hospitalization.
“If you take something you are not supposed to, you run the risk of toxicity. You run the risk of increasing side effects,” Patel said.
Patel says those side effects can include rash, itching, swelling and fever.
“And, if you’re somebody who takes a blood thinner, you can actually increase your bleeding risk with a medication like ivermectin,” Patel added.
This week, the top U.S. professional groups for doctors and pharmacists appealed for an “immediate end” to the drug’s use outside of research.
“We are urging physicians, pharmacists, and other prescribers — trusted healthcare professionals in their communities — to warn patients against the use of ivermectin outside of FDA-approved indications and guidance,” said the American Medical Association and two pharmacist groups.
“The risks of taking ivermectin for COVID outweigh the known benefits, and that’s why we don’t recommend it. It’s just like something ludicrous like drinking bleach to clean your body. You wouldn’t drink hand soap to clean the germs in your body,” Patel said.
Patel says the only reason anyone should be taking this medication is to treat what is intended for. Ivermectin is approved by the FDA to treat infections of roundworms and other tiny parasites in humans and animals like cows, horses and dogs. Tablets are used for internal parasites while ointments are used to treat head lice and other skin infections. The generic drug works by paralyzing the worms and killing their offspring.
News4Jax did speak with a doctor in the area who is prescribing ivermectin to his patients. He said he’s hearing from patients that it has cut down on how sick someone is when they get COVID-19. However, they did not want to speak on camera because of the negative publicity surrounding the prescription of this medication.