Is Ivermectin a safe treatment for COVID-19? Parkview Health doctors say no

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Over the past few weeks, the drug Ivermectin has accumulated an increasing amount of attention as a way to treat or prevent COVID-19. The buzz surged earlier in the week after comedian and podcast giant, Joe Rogan, claimed he was using it to treat his own infection.

“It does cause a lot of concern for healthcare providers when people outside of healthcare, such as celebrities or politicians endorse particular treatments that really have not been proven to be effective,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boord, the Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Parkview Health.

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic agent, approved by the FDA to treat certain types of infections such as roundworm, or scabies. It can either be administered in pill form or topically.

Dr. Boord said the idea the drug prevents COVID is based on some “very early studies in a laboratory that indicated Ivermectin did appear to have some ability to inhibit the virus that causes COVID-19 in the test tube.”

However, Dr. Boord said that does not make it safe to use to prevent the virus.

“The concentrations of the drug necessary to do that are much higher than you could safely administer in human beings,” said Dr. Booard. “So, both the National Institutes of Health, and Infectious Disease Society of America guidelines recommend against using ivermectin off label for either prevention or treatment of COVID-19 outside of a clinical trial.”

With that being said, he argued that the data collected so far isn’t convincing enough to prove Ivermectin helps either prevent or treat COVID.

Dr. Boord said even Parkview Health has had a few cases of individuals who took large doses of Ivermectin that weren’t prescribed. As a result, those patients suffered “significant toxicity” and required hospitalization.

While when given in prescribed doses for the approved parasitic infections, Dr. Boord said the drug can be safely used, higher doses the drug can have the significant toxicity. It can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea, as well as central nervous system manifestations, headache, confusion, or even seizures.

“It has certainly not been common [in Fort Wayne],” said Dr. Booard. “But, the CDC issued a health advisory recently and there’s been a dramatic increase in calls to poison control centers in various states because of situations where individuals had taken very large doses of ivermectin. For example, doses of ivermectin that were intended for use in animals.”

He said the Ivermectin preparations that are used in animals are generally already vastly higher concentration.

He compared the frenzy around Ivermectin to when people claimed Hydroxychloroquine was a way to prevent COVID-19 in 2020.

“However, multiple clinical trials failed to show any benefit of using Hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 either in ambulatory patients or in hospitalized patients,” said Dr. Boord. “I suspect that we’re going to see the same thing with Ivermectin.”

Instead, Parkview Health recommends a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19. The antibodies are laboratory-made molecules that copy the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses.

“They have had clinical studies with these medications that evaluate how well they worked and how safe they are, and the benefits far outweigh just the risk for these patients,” said Abby Todt, a pharmacy manager at Parkview Regional Medical Center. “They are directed against the spike protein which is on the virus that causes COVID 19, and they are designed to block the virus with attachment and entry into the human cell.”

The monoclonal antibody infusion therapy is only available to patients who meet FDA-approved criteria for use. Those requirements are patients:

  • With mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients, AND
  • With positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 viral testing, AND
  • Are 12 years of age and older weighing at least 40kg (88 lbs.), AND
  • Less than 10 days have passed since symptom onset, AND
  • Are at high-risk of progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization

More details about the treatment can be found here.

As for if Ivermectin could possibly be approved to treat and prevent COVID in the future, Dr. Boord said it would have to demonstrate clear efficacy and safety, which it “very likely may not.” He said the drug is currently being studied in clinical trials.

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