Social media platforms have been running a recent Australian study on the possible antiviral effects the drug ivermectin may have on the virus that causes COVID-19; however, little is known about the effects this treatment could have, according to specialists at Auburn University in Alabama.
Not recommended for humans
Dr. Soren Rodning, an Alabama Extension veterinarian, warned that people should not buy animal ivermectin products to self-medicate.
“There’s still a lot we don’t know about how effective a treatment of ivermectin really is for COVID-19 in humans,” said Rodning, who is also an Auburn University associate professor of animal sciences. “What we do know for certain is that animal formulations of ivermectin are not recommended for human use.”
Rodning said the Food & Drug Administration requires labels on animal ivermectin products warning people not to ingest it.
“The concentration of ivermectin in these products or some of the inactive ingredients used in animal formulations may not be safe for human use,” he said. “Specifically, these have not been proven safe for use by people through clinical drug trials. Bottom line: Do not self-medicate with animal ivermectin products. I cannot emphasize this enough.”
Rodning said ivermectin is commonly used as an anti-parasitic treatment in cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses and pets such as dogs and cats.
“Developed in the 1970s, the drug is also used to treat a variety of human parasitic diseases, especially in developing countries,” Rodning said. “For example, it is currently used to treat a parasitic disease caused by roundworms that affects an estimated 30-100 million people worldwide.”
In vitro versus in vivo
The Australian research circulating through social media was conducted in vitro.
“In vitro means the research was performed outside of a living organism, such as in a Petri dish,” Rodning said. “In vivo is conducted on a living organism, such as mice, rabbits or people.”
Drug trials for infectious diseases typically begin in vitro. Compounds that demonstrate positive effects then progress to in vivo studies.
“One frustrating reality for researchers is that many drugs may show in vitro effects but not show the same type of results once in vivo testing begins,” he said.
In recent years, ivermectin has been shown to have antiviral activity against a broad range of viruses in vitro, Rodning said.
“Most notably, ivermectin has shown in vitro activity against Zika virus and dengue virus, but so far, ivermectin has shown no antiviral effects against Zika virus in mice,” Rodning said.
He said a human clinical trial in Thailand used the drug against the dengue virus, but no clinical benefit was observed in that research.
“There is reason to hope that ivermectin could prove useful against COVID-19, but much more research needs to be done,” Rodning said. “We are just not there yet.”
Alabama Extension has content that goes into greater detail about this study: "Ivermectin Unproven as Treatment for COVID-19."