Whatever You Do, Don’t Take Ivermectin
This bears repeating: don’t take ivermectin. The medication that treats parasitic infections came into Singapore’s mainstream media when a 65-year-old-retiree ingested the controlled drug. Now, there is even an online petition with over 2,200 signatures that called for ivermectin to be used as an outpatient treatment plan for Covid-19.
Across the causeway in Malaysia, there were two cases reported of acute poisoning from the antiparasitic drug: one was a 35-year-old who faced breathing difficulties for five days after ingesting one ivermectin pill. In another case, a senior citizen was found unconscious, after supposedly consuming 15 ivermectin pills in one sitting.
Malaysia’s National Poisons Centre cautioned against taking the drug as medication against Covid-19 while noting that there was illicit sales of the drugs. Singapore’s Health Science Authority (HSA) stated that “there is no scientific evidence from properly conducted clinical trials to prove that this medicine is effective against Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, America’s Food and Drug Administration had a dry response captured this writer’s exasperation: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” Even Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, has come out and advised against the use of ivermectin for Covid-19, all the way back in February.
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
Ivermectin Uses: Ivermectin comes in various forms. In the United States, ivermectin tablets are approved to treat strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis, which are caused by parasitic worms. There are topical forms of ivermectin too, and they treat external parasites, such as head lice. Topical ivermectin is used to treat skin conditions like rosacea as well.
There are forms of ivermectin that are specifically created for use on animals. Those usually are used to prevent heartworm disease, as well as to combat internal and external parasites. These are different from the ones used in people and are only safe for animals.
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How Ivermectin Picked Up Steam
Calls to use ivermectin picked up momentum started early on in the pandemic, before we had vaccines. Hospitals were overwhelmed, so people were looking for anything that could help treat Covid-19. Some latched on to ivermectin, while some doctors and scientists pondered on the possibility that the drug could prevent patients from getting Covid, or from experiencing the worst symptoms of the disease.
Then there were studies conducted on the use of ivermectin. There was one study in Australia that showed that ivermectin could potentially prevent the replication of the coronavirus. Though, it was used on cell culture in a laboratory setting (in vitro). The doctors and scientists had reservations to extrapolate from the studies. Because it would mean that you have to give patients ivermectin at high doses to prevent the replication of the virus, which would be extremely risky.
But remember, it was a moment where things were desperate. There were big outbreaks in settings like prisons, and you see people trying it because it was cheap, easy to source and because they thought it was a miracle cure. Then in November 2020, there was a major study from Cairo explored the use of ivermectin in humans, rather than just in cell culture in a lab. It showed that it could be potentially effective in treating Covid-19.
In the United States, groups were calling for the use of ivermectin, a Senator even joined in. One of the more prominent groups, the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance gave the idea credence. The group was formed early on in the pandemic, by a network of doctors that looked at alternative cures. They propelled the use of steroids in Covid patients, which was actually effective, before turning their attention to ivermectin.
By September this year, there were reports of Singaporeans buying ivermectin online to treat Covid, despite expert warnings against it. Ivermectin is cheaper than paracetamol. Online, you can find ivermectin tablets for sale. Prices go around SGD 17 for 100 pills, including shipping. There were already three Telegram chat groups openly discussing the drugs, and even consolidated orders of it to be shipped in Singapore.
That same week, the HSA stated that it will take action against individuals who engage in the illegal sale and supply of ivermectin. Under the Health Products Act, individuals could be fined up to S$50,000 or jailed up to two years, or both, if convicted of the illegal sale of the drug.
Why You Shouldn’t Be Taking Ivermectin
Don’t take our word for it:
The current evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 patients is inconclusive. Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used within clinical trials.
And that’s by the World Health Organisation, which released the statement back in March 2021. If you want studies closer to home, take a look at the study by a team of clinician-scientists from the National University Health System (NUHS).
The study team tested the various preventative therapies on more than 3,000 migrant workers in May last year, when the pandemic was at its peak in migrant dormitories. 617 of those migrant workers received ivermectin. They found that ivermectin was less effective than oral hydroxychloroquine and povidone-iodine throat spray. In fact, the study found no statistically significant differences in Covid-19 infection rates between those who took Vitamin C and those who had ivermectin.
The science of Covid-19 vaccines and medications will keep changing; that is the nature of science itself. New data will come in, new information will be discovered. It’s all very confusing, we know.
Science is filled with a lack of consensus—but that is a feature, not a bug. Different hypotheses need to be tested, and conclusions are often full of caveats—‘approximations of the truth’—rather than truth itself.
Though we want a sense of certainty, good science will always take time. So let’s stick to the facts we have now.
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