‘I’m an Infectious Disease Doctor—Please Don’t Take Ivermectin To Treat or Prevent COVID-19’

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As the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus causes surges across the country, those sick with COVID-19 have begun seeking out disease treatments they can access at home. Unfortunately, no such treatments currently exist, says Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, an infectious disease professor at the University of San Francisco. The drug Ivermectin, which is being self-administered by many who hope it will alleviate their COVID-19 symptoms, is not an effective treatment, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that taking it is downright dangerous.

Ivermectin is an FDA-approved drug utilized for eradicating parasitic worms in both humans and animals like cows and horses, says Dr. Gandhi. However, it's not as commonly used in people here in the U.S. as it is abroad. For this reason, some Americans are turning to Ivermectin doses meant for animals—because they're much easier to obtain than human prescriptions.

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While it's easy to mock those testing out this treatment (even the FDA's Twitter account is doing it), Dr. Gandhi says their belief in Ivermectin isn't as random as it may seem. She explains that in-vitro studies (aka, conducted outside of the body) suggest that Ivermectin inhibited COVID-19; however, clinical trials performed on humans showed no difference in symptoms between those who took Ivermectin and those who took the placebo. So even though Ivermectin looked promising in the lab, it did not deliver results in real life. The FDA states that they haven't reviewed any data to suggest that taking Ivermectin is a good idea, but some initial research is underway.  In short: Don't take Ivermectin for COVID-19.

Essentially, Dr. Gandhi says, the same thing is happening now with Ivermectin that happened with Hydroxychloroquine last year—science doesn't support its efficacy in treating COVID-19. Still, the rumor mill continues churning out misinformation that it does. The only difference between this and other highly-touted treatments that have been proven ineffective is that it's easier to poke fun, given that some people are taking doses meant for farm animals.

It's not funny, however, as these drugs are not benign, says Dr. Gandhi. They have common side effects, which include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some people can also get more serious side effects, especially if they take the drug in high doses (like, say, those designed for a 1000-pound horse). These more severe side effects include low blood pressure, headache, muscle aches, and rashes. According to the FDA, overdoses can even cause seizures, coma, and death.

For this reason, the organization has gone out of its way to warn the public against taking this drug. The basic gist of their message is that you should not take Ivermectin—whether for an animal or a human, but especially not the latter—unless you, yourself, have a prescription for its use from a licensed medical professional.

If you have taken Ivermectin and are experiencing low blood pressure or any worrisome symptoms, Dr. Gandhi says you should get yourself to a hospital. And if you haven't taken it, don't! She understands that the lack of home treatment options for COVID-19 is frustrating, but unfortunately, if you get mild to moderate COVID-19, all you can do is treat the symptoms with regular over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage fever symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. If you get a severe COVID-19 infection, you should go to the hospital.

And, of course, the best thing you can do to protect yourself against COVID-19 infection is to get a vaccine. Even though boosters may soon be recommended to bolster immunity, initial doses remain highly protective against serious illness, hospitalization, and disease. And for now, masking up indoors and in large crowds outdoors is advised, too. But Ivermectin is, unequivocally, not. "If you take Ivermectin, you won't get better," Dr. Gandhi says.

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