Ivermectin under scrutiny as possible COVID-19 treatment

July 30, 2021
Ivermectin under scrutiny as possible COVID-19 treatment

The Principle Trial organised by scientists at the University of Oxford, UK, is currently administering Ivermectin to COVID-19 patients to see if the drug prevents severe disease. Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug commonly used as veterinary medication – it has become controversial after being promoted for use in many parts of the world, despite its efficacy being so far undivided.

Dr. Aurora Baluja, an anaesthesiologist working at the University Clinic Hospital in Santiago de Compostela, said Ivermectin was often being given in places where there are high incidences of parasitic infections. COVID-19 patients who are fighting a parasitic disease at the same time might report a positive effect after taking the drug.

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Ivermectin has also been taken up by doctors or by individuals self-medicating in countries including Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, South Africa, India, and the US. In the US, health provider SingleCare said 817 prescriptions had been filled for Ivermectin (which can also be used to treat skin conditions such as rosacea) in January and February 2021, compared with 92 in the same period in 2020.

However, Principle joint chief investigator Professor Richard Hobbs said it would be “premature” to recommend Ivermectin for COVID-19, early “promising” results from various small and observational studies notwithstanding.

[Unlike “gold standard” trials such as Principle, observational studies look at people already taking the drug, rather than giving it to a group representative of the population; observational studies fail to account for several factors including methodology and patient participation, that might have been influencing the spread of the virus at the time.]

Professor Dr. Stephen Griffin at the University of Leeds said, “much like hydroxychloroquine before, there has been a considerable amount of off-label use of this drug,” based mainly on studies of the virus in the lab. Ivermectin has been shown to kill viruses in petri dishes in the lab – although, at much higher doses than would usually be prescribed to people.

“The danger with such off-label use is that…the use of the drug becomes driven by specific interest groups or proponents of non-conventional treatments and becomes politicised,” he said, adding the Principle Trial should provide a “final answer” to whether or not Ivermectin should be used to treat COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian health ministry is also in the midst of studying Ivermectin’s effectiveness as COVID-19 treatment and possible side effects. The ministry has listed some side effects including a skin rash, nausea, vomiting, stomach distress and diarrhoea, swelling, sudden low blood pressure, as well as seizures and disorientation, after using Ivermectin.

“Until now, clinical studies’ results are insufficient to prove that Ivermectin can treat or prevent COVID-19, only vaccines have been proven to prevent severe COVID-19,” the ministry stated.

According to news service BBC, even though vaccines can stop people from contracting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill, treatments will still be needed for those who already have it. Having an effective treatment would, in essence, make coronavirus a milder disease; and, if it stopped people from needing hospital treatment or ventilation, there would be significantly less risk of hospitals and intensive care units being overwhelmed.

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Category: Features, Pharmaceuticals

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