Answering questions about ivermectin

What is ivermectin?

Ivermectin has been in the news quite a bit lately, but what exactly is it?

Ivermectin is a drug that is used to treat infections from parasites. It is found in a variety of medications approved for treating certain infections in humans or animals. Human medications may be taken by mouth or applied to the skin, and are used to treat such conditions as roundworms, head lice, scabies and rosacea. Ivermectin is found in some heartworm medications for pets, and may be used for a variety of parasite infections in livestock.

Can ivermectin be used to treat COVID-19?

While some studies have looked at ivermectin as a potential treatment for COVID-19, at this time both the FDA and the CDC have determined that there is not enough evidence to suggest it should be used for this purpose.

Is ivermectin dangerous?

Like any medication, ivermectin is safe when used appropriately. That means using it as recommended by your doctor or pharmacist to treat a specific health condition.

Taking large doses or taking drugs formulated for animals can be harmful. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, drowsiness, dizziness and loss of coordination. A handful of cases involving large doses have resulted in very serious symptoms, including confusion, hallucinations, rapid breathing, tremors and even seizures.

Ivermectin also may interact with the common heart medication warfarin to increase the risk of bleeding.

Are people poisoning themselves with ivermectin?

Nationally, poison centers have seen a significant increase in cases involving ivermectin since late July, with about nine times as many cases in August as typical, suggesting that some number of people are using ivermectin inappropriately. While this is concerning, these cases account for just a tiny fraction of overall poison center cases, and most patients did not experience significant effects from their inappropriate use of ivermectin. However, about 1 in 10 patients in these cases did experience more severe symptoms.

At the NNEPC, we typically manage about 15-20 human exposures and 5-10 animal exposures involving ivermectin each year. Most of these are common types of poison center cases: young children or dogs getting into medications that have been left out, people accidentally taking a second dose of their prescribed medication, people getting animal medication in their mouth or eyes while dosing livestock, etc. As of this writing, the NNEPC has managed 14 human exposures to ivermectin in 2021, with four of them stemming from attempts to treat or prevent COVID-19, mostly in the past two weeks. None of these patients experienced significant effects from the ivermectin.

How should I treat or prevent COVID-19?

Any treatment for COVID-19 should be coordinated with your doctor. Ivermectin is not approved for COVID-19 treatment, but there are many other options available.

Even better is to take steps to prevent COVID-19 infection: Get vaccinated, wear masks where recommended and practice social distancing where appropriate.

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