It’s been over a year since the pandemic turned our lives upside down. We’ve finally got vaccines but those who aren’t frontliners, health workers, senior citizens, or VIPs *cough* might have to wait until mid- to late-2021 to get their dose. Hospitals are dangerously full, and cases at an all-time high. ECQ has restricted the lives of many once again and it feels as if we haven’t budged one bit from where we were last year. But while regular people like us wait for the vaccines to be available, there’s another option that’s making quite a clamor worldwide. Ivermectin is a drug that’s been on the news since mid-2020. What is it? Is Ivermectin dangerous or could it be the life-saving anti-COVID-19 drug we’re all waiting for?
What is Ivermectin?
Ivermectin is a drug that was first made in the 1970s in partnership between Kitasato Institute in Japan and Merck & Co pharmaceutical in the U.S. Initially, it was introduced as a powerful veterinary drug effective in killing both internal and external parasites in animals.
So is it only for animals?
Ivermectin can be prescribed for human use. But note that Ivermectin formulations that are meant for animal use are different from ivermectin medications used for people. Ivermectin products for veterinary use are not safe for humans.
In the late 1970s, African countries were plagued with endemic Onchocerciasis. It’s an infection caused by the Onchocerca volvulus parasitic worm that can leave an individual blind and suffering from horrible skin rashes. Merck & Co started distributing Ivermectin for human use in 1988 and the disease practically disappeared. The drug killed the parasites in the human body and prevented more from spreading.
Following the success of Ivermectin in defeating Onchocerciasis, researchers broadened the drug’s horizons. Today, it’s used to treat humans for the following:
- Strongyloidiasis (roundworm intestinal infection)
- Scabies (skin infestation caused by human itch mite)
- Leishmaniasis (caused by Leishmania parasites)
- Pediculosis (lice infestation)
- Gnathostomiasis (infection caused by the nematode (roundworm) in food)
- Myiasis (skin infection with a fly larva)
Ivermectin was so successful it was dubbed as the ‘wonder drug‘ by many researchers and doctors. It’s even effective in vitro against viruses like dengue, influenza, and zika.
Ivermectin can be taken orally in a single dose or series of doses as prescribed by a doctor. The drug also has a topical version for skin rashes and head lice. A single tablet is priced at P35 in the Philippines, but it’s a prescription-only drug.
So is it effective against the COVID-19 virus?
“The current evidence on the use of Ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients is inconclusive,” says the World Health Organization (WHO) in a press release last March. “Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used within clinical trials.”
In other words, WHO believes there is no concrete evidence that Ivermectin can actually lessen the impact, cure, or prevent COVID-19.
Though initial research has shown that Ivermectin could help stop COVID-19, more data is needed.
Back in April 2020, Monash University scientists discovered that Ivermectin could stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus within 48 hours. “We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” said Dr. Kylie Wagstaff who led the study. These tests were done in vitro, so the next steps are to determine the correct human dosage.
America’s National Institute of Health (NIH) changed its stance from being against Ivermectin to being “either for or against the use” since there seems to be insufficient data. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) even said that all of the 49 Ivermectin studies show favorable effects.
The British Ivermectin Recommendation Development’s (BIRD) assessment of Ivermectin trials made in February 2021 found that the drug “reduces the risks of transmission of COVID-19 by more than 90%.”
But is it FDA-approved?
Should we care that the FDA hasn’t approved of Ivermectin? Yes, of course.
Taking a drug in a way that hasn’t been approved by the FDA can be dangerous. Ivermectin can interact with other medications (like blood-thinners), and it’s also possible to overdose on ivermectin. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, itching and hives, dizziness, problems with balance. In rare cases, it could cause seizures, coma, and even death.
Even some local doctors and businessmen want the drug
Mainstream and social media have been abuzz with news about the drug being an effective treatment. So much so that businessmen even asked the government to look into Ivermectin’s potential as “an inexpensive drug to prevent and treat COVID-19.”
Local doctor Dr. Allan Landrito is a firm believer in the drug. In fact, he has already given it to more than 8,000 patients. “These people haven’t gotten the virus or the infection and most of them will tell me they don’t get the COVID-19 anymore if they use Ivermectin early on,” he said.
Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC PH) want to use the drug as prophylaxis and treatment. According to them, it’s crucial internal protection against the virus.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jacinto Mantaring from UP and the DOH research ethics board says that reports of a few people getting cured of the virus are “not enough to recommend its use on entire populations.”
In a Facebook post, Dr. Edsel Salvana said that when doctors prescribe a drug for a non-FDA indication, it means that “the doctor is taking responsibility for the use of the drug and that he believes the benefit of the said drug outweighs the possible side effects — which include a small possibility of brain damage and death from ivermectin overdose.”
Merck says there is no basis for Ivermectin curing COVID-19
With Filipinos clamoring for the drug, the FDA, DOH, and even the Philippine representative for WHO had to remind the public that Ivermectin still needs to undergo clinical trials against the coronavirus. Authorities are simply being careful.
Which countries are using Ivermectin?
I’ll continue to share this picture and our story (thank you to my tweeps who indulge me every time)because Ivermectin saves lives & we have to stop downplaying it. Left- before Ivermectin & Doc told me my Dad would likely die. Right – after Ivermectin. 22 days between pics. pic.twitter.com/Fjhria0ZJD
— Mindy (@just_mindy) April 4, 2021
Many people also took to social media to share their healing journey from the virus thanks to Ivermectin.
It’s such a controversial drug that it might actually split the world into pros and antis. But some countries have fully embraced the “very safe drug” and administered it to COVID patients. Slovakia is the first EU nation to authorize Ivermectin. Belize, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and Peru are just some of the countries also using Ivermectin for COVID treatment.
So what now?
There is a lot of misinformation around, but we shouldn’t jump the gun and expect doctors to prescribe ivermectin left and right until we have more data. Currently, the WHO and FDA recommend against the use of Ivermectin against viral infections because the current research is insufficient.
Until more research is done, we still have to keep doing what we know is effective: stay at home, wear your masks, and practice physical distancing.