Ivermectin is a topical medicine commonly used to treat parasitic infections in both humans and animals. However, recent studies have shown that Ivermectin could show promise as a treatment against coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The study, conducted at Monash University, Australia, demonstrated that Ivermectin stops coronavirus growth in cell cultures. So what are cell cultures exactly? Cell cultures are a group of cells that are grown in a controlled environment - usually a petri dish. Substances, such as Ivermectin, can be added to the cell cultures to see how the cells respond. In this study, the researchers infected their cell cultures with SARS-Cov-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19), then they treated the cell cultures with Ivermectin, to see how the cells responded.
The research demonstrated that a single dose of Ivermectin stops the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating within 24-48 hours. This results in an approximately 5000-fold reduction in the detectable virus after 48 hours. These results show promise, but it could still take a while before Ivermectin is used as a treatment for COVID-19.
The study shows promising results, but there is still a long way to go. The research focussed on cell cultures. Cell cultures can mimic aspects of the human body, but they are not an accurate representation of what would happen if Ivermectin was given as a treatment. The human body is much more complicated than a cell culture and it may be much harder to ensure that the Ivermectin reaches the virus within the body. You can’t simply put the Ivermectin onto the infected cells; you have to take the medicine as a pill or a topical cream instead.
Having said this, Ivermectin is a good candidate to become a new COVID-19 treatment for several reasons:
Doctors prefer to prescribe treatments with a strong evidence base because all medications do carry a risk of side effects. Side effects can sometimes be severe and may cause significant complications for the patient. Ivermectin has few side effects and they are mostly low-risk, so Ivermectin is a medication that doctors may be more willing to prescribe without a strong evidence base. However, a big challenge is working out if Ivermectin will be effective against SARS-CoV-2 at the current approved dosages. If not, the dosage of Ivermectin may need to be increased significantly, which then poses a greater risk to the patient.
Every medical intervention is a balancing act between the potential risks and benefits. Ivermectin and other proposed treatments for COVID-19 are no different. Without a strong evidence base for the use of Ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, it is harder to understand exactly what the risks and benefits could be. Therefore, it is likely that doctors will act with caution to avoid harming the patient they are trying to treat.