The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other health agencies have advised against the unauthorized use of the drug ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 in humans. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has sent a health alert message to healthcare providers in the state requesting reporting and cautioning them about the many side effects and serious harm caused when people take this medication for unapproved use.
Ivermectin is not an anti-viral drug and is approved for humans only at specific doses for specific conditions. An FDA consumer alert explained that ivermectin is often used in the U.S. to treat or prevent parasites in animals. The agency has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and have been hospitalized after taking high doses of ivermectin which can be highly toxic in humans. Side effects occur, and drug interactions are common.
Two forms of ivermectin are available for human use, tablets to treat parasitic worms and a topical to treat head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea.
The FDA has advised against human use of ivermectin produced for animals such as cows and horses as the doses are much higher and could contain ingredients intended only for animals and are thus harmful to humans.
Ivermectin is not without side effects, even at a single dose. With the doses being given or found in livestock products, the risk of overdosing increases as does the severity of side effects and drug interactions.
Noted interactions occur with common medications which include but are not limited to allergy medicines, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, some anti-hypertensive medications, blood thinners and many others.
Common side effects for ivermectin include itching and hives, dizziness, headache, nausea, diarrhea and muscle pain.
More serious adverse reactions associated with toxicity and possible ivermectin poisoning documented in clinical literature include loss of consciousness, drowsiness, tremor, seizure, hypotension (low blood pressure), vomiting and coma.
Ivermectin has not been given emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA to prevent or treat COVID-19.
There are drugs available, including monoclonal antibodies, which are FDA-EUA-authorized for COVID-19 post-exposure prevention and treatment. The newly named Pfizer COMIRNATY (COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA) now has full FDA approval, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are FDA-EUA authorized in the U.S.
Nationally and within Alabama the number of calls being received by poison control centers concerning ivermectin is increasing.
In Alabama, as of Aug. 23, the number of calls from persons taking ivermectin had doubled from the prior year. The Alabama Poison Information Center is tracking calls related to ivermectin side effects, toxicity or poisoning.
Anyone who has taken ivermectin and has signs and symptoms consistent with side effects, adverse reactions or toxicity/poisoning is advised to call the Alabama Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222.