Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some medical professionals have reviewed already available drugs to see if they could be used as effective treatments. Some patients received Ivermectin (an anti-parasitic) with positive results. More studies have shown that it has little or no effect on COVID-19. There’s also been an increase in calls to poison centers by people who are taking ivermectin intended for animals.

One side is the opinion of doctors that ivermectin could be used worldwide to end the pandemic. Public health officials have looked at the data and concluded that the drug is not effective against COVID-19.

This is everything you need about ivermectin’s use in COVID-19.

What is ivermectin?

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medicine “that works by altering cellular channels,” said Dr. Soumi Eachempati, CEO of Cleared4 and former professor of surgery and public health at Weill Cornell Medical College. It prevents certain viruses from infecting cells and thus stops them from spreading. According to Eachempati, Ivermectin can be used to treat parasitic infections such as Strongyloides and lice.

Merck, a pharmaceutical giant, discovered ivermectin back in 1975. They began using it in 1981 to treat scabies and other parasitic diseases caused by worms and lice. It’s on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines for a basic health care system. More than 250 million people take the drug across the globe each year, and it’s effective for animals as well.

When taken in the right dosage, the drug is safe. Side effects for the ivermectin vary depending on whether it’s taken orally to treat intestinal infections or topically for skin infections. Oral tablets can cause nausea, drowsiness, and sometimes seizures. Skin reactions to topical ivermectin may include irritation and skin rash. Dry skin and stinging sensations are rare and severe.

Is it possible to treat COVID-19 with ivermectin?

Here is where things get tricky. The Federal Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization don’t recommend ivermectin be used to treat COVID-19. They point out the insufficient data from large, randomized trials to confirm the drug’s effectiveness in treating the disease.

Multiple smaller studies and personal experience have been cited by doctors who disagree. They assert that ivermectin can prevent the development of COVID-19 symptoms and speed up recovery for people already infected.

What are the opinions of the public health agencies regarding ivermectin’s use in COVID-19 treatment?

The FDA said in March it hasn’t approved the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19. The FDA warned that high doses of the drug can be dangerous and could cause serious harm. It also warned against the use of ivermectin for humans that is not intended for animals (e.g., cows or horses) because the doses can be different and may contain only animal ingredients.

A growing number of people have been taking ivermectin for animals as word’s spread on social media about its possible use against COVID-19. This has resulted in some people calling state poison centers after taking the drug, since the medication is intended for animals. On Aug. 20, the Mississippi State Department of Health sent out an alert regarding the number of calls its poison center received, with 70% related to the “ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers.”

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In April, the FDA reaffirmed in a post on its website that ivermectin isn’t approved to treat COVID-19 nor has it been given emergency use authorization.

The NIH said in February there was insufficient data to “recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19.” However, it did state that lab tests showed that the drug had stopped the SARS-CoV-2 virus from reproducing. To be effective, however, the doses must be 100-fold greater than those that are approved for human use.

Some clinical studies did not show ivermectin’s benefit. However, others showed a lower rate of mortality among patients. According to the NIH, these studies were not complete or had limitations in terms of methodological methods, such as small sample sizes and patients who received additional medicine with ivermectin.

The WHO said in March the current evidence on the use of ivermectin for treatment of COVID-19 was “inconclusive.”