Warning over why ivermectin should not be used to treat coronavirus

Experts have issued a warning about the hype surrounding a cheap anti-parasite drug that is being touted as a COVID-19 cure.

Ivermectin is only approved for human use in Australia to treat conditions that are caused by parasites such as mites and worms.

But it has been touted on social media and other platforms as a COVID-19 treatment which has led to a surge in local prescriptions and people importing the drug illegally by purchasing it online.

Ivermectin tablets should not be used to treat COVID-19. (Photo: TajPharmaImages) (TajPharmaImages)

“We find that people who legitimately need it to protect their own health can’t get access to it and that is a risk in our community,” Dr Michael Bonning, chair of the Australian Medical Association (NSW) told 9News.

The TGA warns the drug isn’t without side-effects and the higher doses that are being advocated can lead to severe nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and seizures.

Western Sydney GP Andrew Foong was prescribing ivermectin off-label to patients until the TGA announced a ban last week.

“People are desperate, they want more than just Nurofen and Panadol,” he says. “There’s huge demand out there.”

Dr Foong isn’t happy with the restrictions.

“I’m frustrated, I’m part of the network of 100 doctors out there who are desperately trying to help their patients,” he said.

But the AMA says patients are getting coaching from pro-ivermectin groups online.

“Doctors are being asked to prescribe it,” he said.

“We’ve seen documentation from groups telling people how to pressure their GP’s into doing this.”

The story on why ivermectin has become so popular starts with a nugget of truth.

In early research, it showed promise in killing the virus in a petri dish.

However, lab experiments don’t automatically translate in the real world and subsequent human trials have failed to produce high-quality evidence.

The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce has already sifted through tens of thousands of trials from around the world and it narrowed down 18 trials that compared ivermectin to standard care.

The studies were dismissed as “low quality” which means experts don’t have the credible data they need to prove it works against the virus.

One of the Ivermectin studies was withdrawn after it was found to be fraudulent.

Which leads experts to one conclusion.

“We’ve got insufficient evidence to say whether it’s effective against COVID-19 or not. That includes both the prevention of COVID-19 or the treatment,” said Associate Professor Julian Elliott, Executive Director of the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce.

A recent Cochrane review – which sets a gold standard in analysis of available research – also delivered the same findings.

“People should not be taking this (ivermectin) outside a proper clinical trial and doctors should not be prescribing it for COVID-19”, said Associate Professor Julian Elliott.

The taskforce is anticipating results from robust studies in the coming months from the Together study which is primarily recruiting patients in Brazil and the University of Oxford’s Principle trial.

“I expect that would provide substantial high-quality data,” said Associate Professor Julian Elliott.

For conspiracy theorists, an irresistible narrative also surfaced to fuel demand: Big Pharma didn’t want people to know about ivermectin because it wouldn’t make money from it.

However, experts say the steroid dexamethasone which they say is “dirt cheap” is currently used to reduce someone’s risk of dying from COVID-19 when treated in hospital. The trial results for that medication were published in top medical journals.

Other treatments have been deployed to help save lives including an antibody infusion called sotrovimab.

But the biggest weapon in the fight against COVID-19 is the use of vaccines which are available for free.

“Vaccination is the most important way in which we protect ourselves.

“The death rates around the world including in Australia have dropped considerably in those people who are vaccinated,” said Dr Michael Bonning, AMA NSW Chair.

People who want to know the evidence on the latest treatments for COVID-19 can visit this website.


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