Desperate for a treatment against COVID-19, some Americans have reached for an anti-parasitic drug aimed at animals, with serious consequences, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.
"Never use medications intended for animals on yourself. Ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans," the FDA cautioned in a statement.
The agency has received multiple reports of people who've required medical care, including hospitalization, after self-medicating with a version of the drug ivermectin intended for horses.
Ivermectin is not a treatment for infection with the new coronavirus, the FDA warned. Interest in it, however, has been growing. Some research has suggested that ivermectin could be effective against COVID-19, leading to its use as a COVID-19 treatment in some countries.
But such use is controversial. Ivermectin is not an antiviral drug, and the FDA has not approved it for treating or preventing COVID-19 in people.
"There's a lot of misinformation around, and you may have heard that it's OK to take large doses of ivermectin. That is wrong," the FDA said.
There are different forms of ivermectin. These include FDA-approved tablets to treat people with intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, two conditions caused by parasitic worms.
Some topical (on the skin) forms of ivermectin are approved to treat people with external parasites like head lice and for skin conditions such as rosacea.
There are other types of ivermectin given to animals to prevent heartworm disease and certain internal and external parasites. These products are different from the ones approved for use in people, and safe only when used as prescribed for animals, the FDA says.
One difference is that animal drugs are often very concentrated for use in large animals. Such high concentrations can be dangerous in humans.
Taking large doses of this drug is highly toxic and can cause serious harm, the FDA warned.
"Even the levels of ivermectin for approved uses can interact with other medications, like blood thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death," according to the agency.
"If you have a prescription for ivermectin for an FDA-approved use, get it from a legitimate source and take it exactly as prescribed," the FDA advised.
While some initial research into the use of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients is underway, the FDA has not reviewed data to support use of ivermectin in COVID-19 patients to treat or to prevent COVID-19.
One recent clinical trial found that ivermectin didn't shorten the recovery of patients with mild COVID-19. Symptoms lasted an average of 10 days among those who received ivermectin and 12 days among those who received a placebo, a statistically insignificant difference. That study was published March 4 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.
SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, March 5, 2021