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Coronavirus

Scientists say ivermectin overhyped after surge in use of animal drug to fight COVID

Published: Updated:

There has been a significant surge in ivermectin, an anti-parasite medicine for animals, being used by people to treat COVID-19, US poison control centers have reported, due to false information that it can fight the virus and prevent death.

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The National Poison Data System (NPDS), which is responsible for collecting information on the 55 poison control centers in the US, has found that there was a 245 percent increase in exposure cases between July and August 2021- rising from 133 in July to 459 in August.

Emergency rooms across the country have been treating more patients who have taken the drug to self-medicate against COVID-19 after believing false information about it on the internet by political leaders and talk show hosts, online news media National Public Radio (NPR) reported on Sunday.

Ivermectin study on COVID patients reviewed

A new review conducted by scientists from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and researchers from the COVID-19 Evidence Ecosystem found that conclusions from an earlier study on the use of the drug on coronavirus patients were not accurate. They said that the small, controlled trials of which participants were chosen at random, were not reliable enough to make any valid conclusions on the matter.

“The lack of good quality evidence on efficacy and safety of ivermectin arises from a study pool that consists mainly of small, insufficiently powered RCTs [randomized controlled trials] with overall limited quality regarding study design, conduct and reporting. Current evidence does not support using ivermectin for treating or preventing of COVID-19 unless they are part of well-designed randomized trials,” study co-authors Dr. Maria Popp and Dr. Stephanie Weibel, said in a statement on LSTM’s blog.

A pharmacist holds the anti-parasite drug ivermectin for sale to the public with a medical prescription as Bolivia's Ministry of Health said it can be used under proper medical protocol, while noting the lack of evidence for it as a treatment for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia May 19, 2020. (File photo: Reuters)
A pharmacist holds the anti-parasite drug ivermectin for sale to the public with a medical prescription as Bolivia's Ministry of Health said it can be used under proper medical protocol, while noting the lack of evidence for it as a treatment for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia May 19, 2020. (File photo: Reuters)

The statement read that the study’s authors carried out 14 randomized controlled trials with 1,678 patients. They investigated the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 cases in 13 studies where they compared ivermectin with placebo or with no treatment in addition to comparable usual care in the study arms.

Only one study investigated the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection where the drug was compared to no treatment.

“The review looked at the effects of ivermectin on the number of deaths, whether the patient’s condition worsened or improved, and unwanted effects,” the statement read.

“The Cochrane review cannot confirm whether ivermectin (administered in hospital or as an outpatient) compared with placebo or usual care, leads to more or fewer deaths after one month, whether it improves or worsens patients’ condition, increases or decreases unwanted side effects, nor whether it increases or reduces negative COVID-19 tests 7 days after treatment. Likewise, the review cannot confirm whether or not ivermectin prevents SARS-CoV-2 infection or reduces number of deaths after high-risk exposure.”

A professor at LSTM and coordinating editor of United Kingdom-based Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group (CIDG) said this “is a great review” from a team with a lot of experience.

Ivermectin drug overhyped

“The hype around ivermectin is driven by some studies where the effect size for ivermectin is frankly not credible, and this has driven the conclusions in other reviews,” Paul Garner said.

“The study with a huge effect has now been retracted as fake. Careful appraisal is the cornerstone of Cochrane’s work, and with such extreme public demands for a drug to work during the pandemic, it remains vital that we hold onto our scientific principles to guide care,” he added.

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