Federal health officials are warning health care professionals not to prescribe ivermectin products to treat COVID-19 because they can cause severe illness or death.
Ivermectin dispensing from outpatient retail pharmacies has increased 24-fold compared to pre-pandemic baseline levels, according to a health advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, calls to poison control centers from people reporting severe illness and overdoses from ivermectin products have increased in 2021.
Prescription ivermectin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat certain infections caused by internal and external parasites in humans. Animal formulations also are approved and sold over the counter and via veterinary prescription.
However, the FDA has not authorized or approved ivermectin for prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Clinical trials and observational studies to evaluate the use of ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19 have not yielded sufficient evidence to recommend use, according to the CDC health advisory.
Before the pandemic, there were 3,600 outpatient retail pharmacy prescriptions for ivermectin per week (March 16, 2019, to March 13, 2020). Ivermectin prescriptions reached a peak of 39,000 in the week ending Jan. 8, 2021. After a brief drop, ivermectin prescriptions reached more than 88,000 for the week ending Aug. 13, 2021.
Symptoms of ivermectin overdose include:
- gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea),
- hypotension, and
- neurologic effects (decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, death).
Those who take medications that cause central nervous system depression, including benzodiazepines and barbiturates, may be at increased risk.
The CDC offered the following recommendations for health care professionals:
- Educate patients about the risks of using ivermectin without a prescription or misusing ivermectin formulations meant for external use or ivermectin-containing products formulated for veterinary use.
- Advise patients to seek immediate medical treatment if they have taken ivermectin and experience signs or symptoms of toxicity, such as gastrointestinal effects, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, tachycardia, hypotension, visual hallucinations, altered mental status, confusion, loss of coordination and balance, central nervous system depression, and seizures.
- Call the poison control center hotline (1-800-222-1222) for medical management advice.