Ivermectin has been hailed as a miracle cure for Covid by a handful of public figures, but health authorities are desperately trying to discourage anyone from taking it to combat the virus.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention issued an urgent warning on Thursday about the “rapid increase” in the prescriptions for the anti-parasitic drug, which can prove deadly when taken in large supplies.
Rather than the usual, pre-pandemic 3,600 prescriptions written for ivermectin per week, the CDC say 88,000 prescriptions were written for the drug in the week ending August 13, 2021.
These numbers suggest unproven theories that the drug tackles Covid are taking hold, particularly among the US public.
What is ivermectin?
There are several different formulations of the drug. Ivermectin is usually used to treat parasites and lice in humans, while vets prescribe it to de-worm larger animals such as horses.
It is not an anti-viral drug.
Fox News anchors, including Tucker Carlson, have pushed ivermectin as a miracle drug to treat Covid while some Congressional hearings have even referred to it as a “miracle drug”– but it isn’t.
Even some paid Facebook adverts are pushing the drug on the social media platform, according to Euronews. It has also increased in popularity throughout Latin America and India.
Two friends of mine have just tested positive for Covid. One fully vaccinated in January with Moderna. About my age and healthy. At home with flu-like symptoms no taste or smell. The other in his 60s and unvaccinated. Took Ivermectin cocktail and was back on his feet in two days.
— Steve Deace (@SteveDeaceShow) August 22, 2021
What’s wrong with taking it?
Taking too much of the drug can trigger stomach problems, nerve damage, seizures, disorientation and even death.
Allergic reactions, dizziness and low blood pressure can also occur.
Even for approved uses, ivermectin can still interact with other medication such as blood-thinners for unpredictable results.
Taking ivermectin when it’s been prescribed for animals is especially dangerous, because they are served in high concentrations for large creatures such as horses and cows.
As the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tweeted last Saturday: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y'all. Stop it. https://t.co/TWb75xYEY4
— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA) August 21, 2021
The FDA website also explained: “There’s a lot of misinformation around and you may have heard that it’s okay to take large doses of ivermectin. That is wrong.”
Why are health agency worried?
The CDC said calls to poison control centres had actually increased by three times compared to the pre-pandemic era, as the public attempt to unearth their own medical solutions to either prevent or counter a Covid infection.
The health authorities also noted that ivermectin has not been authorised or approved for use in Covid patients and so should not be prescribed by doctors.
Previous clinical trials of the drug “yielded insufficient evidence” – more trials would be needed to see if it was effective.
The World Health Organisation has also warned against the use of the drug outside clinical trials.
The CDC instead reminded the public that vaccination is “the safest and most effective way to prevent getting sick and protect against severe disease and death”.
The US state of Mississippi also announced that at least 70 percent of recent calls to poison control helplines were related to the ingestion of ivermectin, bought from livestock supply centres.
One study – published back in November 2020 – from Dr Ahmed Elgazzar in Egypt supposedly found that ivermectin was effective for Covid treatment.
Yet, the study was pulled from the science-orientated website Research Square in July due to “ethical concerns”.
The University of Oxford is currently testing the use of ivermectin in people already infected with Covid, but it has not yet published its findings.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.