Five Oregonians have been hospitalized because they misused the deworming drug ivermectin in an attempt to treat or prevent COVID-19, according to the Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health and Science University.
The patients had symptoms like dizziness, balance issues, changes to blood pressure, and seizures. Two people became so ill they were admitted to intensive care. There is no credible scientific evidence to support the idea that ivermectin has any effect against COVID-19.
All told, the Oregon Poison Center saw 25 patients who became ill because they deliberately misused ivermectin between Aug. 1 and Sept. 14. Because ivermectin requires a prescription in humans, some of the patients had attempted to medicate themselves using an over-the-counter form of the drug.
These hospitalizations came during Oregon’s worst COVID-19 surge to date. Since early August, hospitals have been handling an overflow of patients and some have had to ration care. Hospital administrators and state officials have asked people to avoid unnecessary risks to keep hospital beds available for people who need them.
“COVID-19 is a devastating disease and can be very frightening, but the public does not need to use - nor should it use - potentially dangerous drugs to fight it,” said Dr. Robert Hendrickson, medical director at the Oregon Poison Center.
Ivermectin has been called a wonder drug, but that doesn’t mean it cures all ills. It’s really just good at killing one type of thing: the roundworms that infect humans, animals, and plants. Some cause mild stomach problems or skin rashes. Others cause debilitating diseases like river blindness. Diseases caused by roundworms are some of the leading causes of death and disability around the world.
Roundworms are a type of animal called a nematode, and can range in size from microscopic to three feet long, though most are on the smaller side. Evolutionarily, that means roundworms are more closely related to humans than they are like viruses, bacteria, or even plants. Ivermectin is extremely good at killing roundworms and related animals: a single dose of ivermectin a year is all it takes to cure river blindness.
Which is why it’s so surprising that ivermectin has become the latest unfounded, would-be cure-all for COVID-19. While some medications that treat one thing can later be found to treat another, taking a medication that can kill flies and worms in a single dose, for weeks in a row, is never advised. Especially if that medication is being taken without doctor supervision, using an over-the-counter version intended for horses.
There is overwhelming scientific consensus that ivermectin cannot be used to treat or prevent COVID-19, and the paper that initially popularized the drug as a COVID-19 treatment was retracted for plagiarism and falsifying data.
Researchers have been investigating the idea that ivermectin could be used as an antiviral drug for several years. But those tests were done “in vitro” in labs — that means they were conducted in a laboratory using human cells. So far, those results have never been replicated in live animal trials. This is not surprising: most drugs that have an effect in a laboratory don’t work in real life. In fact, the majority of drugs that make it past animal trials and progress to human trials end up not working. That’s part of why finding new drugs is so difficult.
Because ivermectin is not an effective COVID-19 treatment or preventative, as reports of cases rose, the Food and Drug Administration put out an advisory stating that it should not be prescribed to treat COVID-19. The World Health Organization and other public health agencies around the globe have put out similar statements.
If you or someone you know has become ill after taking ivermectin, contact the Oregon Poison Center at 800-222-1222.