AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Farm-supply and feed stores can’t keep a livestock-deworming medication on the shelves because social-media posts are calling it a cure for COVID-19. A veterinarian with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System warns people not to buy animal ivermectin products to self medicate.
“Animal formulations of ivermectin aren’t safe for human use,” said Soren Rodning, an associate professor of animal sciences at Auburn University. “I can’t emphasize this enough.”
The Alabama Poison Information Center at Children’s of Alabama has fielded more than two dozen ivermectin-exposure calls thus far. The majority of the calls were related to COVID-19.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires labels on animal ivermectin products warning people not to ingest it. Veterinarians use it as a dewormer in cattle, horses and pets.
“The concentration of ivermectin in these products or some of the inactive ingredients used in animal formulations may not be safe for human use,” Rodning said. “They haven’t been proven safe for use by people through clinical drug trials.”
While a human formulation of ivermectin exists, safety is key, said Marilyn Bulloch, an associate clinical professor of pharmacy practice at Auburn.
“It would be wonderful to have a cheap oral medicine to treat COVID,” she said. “But the blood concentrations needed for the active ingredient are substantially greater than ever studied. Research shows it doesn’t work in normal human doses.”
Spencer Durham, an associate clinical professor of pharmacy practice at Auburn, agrees.
“To achieve adequate blood concentrations would require a lethal dose of the human formulation,” he said.
Hundreds of drugs have shown promise in a lab setting against COVID-19. But they’ve failed to be effective against the disease in people.
“There’s a well-designed, large-scale study in people underway in the United Kingdom to investigate if ivermectin could be effective in more normal human doses,” Bulloch said. “But we don’t know how long that study will run and when data will be available.”
Long-term studies into dose sizes, dosing schedules and potential side effects in people are what’s needed, Durham said.
“These types of studies are what we need to make well-researched and safe recommendations,” he said.
Durham said he’s concerned that vaccine-hesitant people are embracing the social-media hype about ivermectin.
“I understand that people want to feel that any medications and vaccines are well-researched and safe,” he said. “But there’s no evidence to support that normal doses of human formulations of ivermectin are effective. There’s significant evidence that animal formulations are unsafe for people and possibly lethal.”
In contrast, strong evidence exists that the vaccines currently available are safe and that they significantly reduce the potential for contracting COVID-19 and requiring hospitalization, he said. Visit aces.edu and search for "Alabama Ready" for more information.
Maggie Lawrence is assistant director of communications and marketing for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.