BEAUMONT, Texas — An antiparasitic drug that is used to treat head lice is emerging as a potential treatment for coronavirus, showing promising results after preliminary studies.
Experts are expressing cautious optimism that ivermectin could one day be used to treat COVID-19, warning that studies are still in the very early stages.
Ivermectin was discovered in 1975 and is on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines. It has been used to treat head lice, scabies, river blindness and rosacea.
It has also been used to prevent heartworm in dogs, and control parasitic worms in the gastrointestinal tract of some animals.
The drug has also been studied as a potential antiviral drug against yellow fever and chikumgunya.
“Finding a safe, affordable, readily available therapy like ivermectin if it proves effective with rigorous evaluation has the potential to save countless lives,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, an infectious disease expert with the NorthShore University HealthSystem, told ABC News.
Scientists in Australia are now studying how inermectin can be used to treat humans against COVID-19, ABC News is reporting.
“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” said Dr. Kylie Wagstaff, the leader of the team from Melbourne’s Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute.
The drug is being used as one of several treatments for COVID-19 patients at the Broward Health Medical Center in Florida, NBC Miami reports.
“We haven’t had any ill effects from it and it’s readily available, we have some patients who are pretty advanced, not yet intubated, and even those, in 12 hours, they showed a significant improvement," Dr. Jean-Jacques Rajter told NBC Miami.
Despite the positive results, experts warn that more studies need to be done, though they remain cautiously optimistic.
The FDA wrote last week that additional testing is needed to determine if ivermectin is safe and effective to treat COVID-19 patients. They worry that since ivermectin is widely used in animals, that consumers may self-medicate by taking ivermectin products intended for animals, thinking they can be a substitute for the drug used for humans.
President Trump has put the spotlight on the anit-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for coronavirus.
Tablets are being sent out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cities around the country. They are tapping into the Strategic National Stockpile to ship nearly 20 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine.
The FDA granted emergency approval for the drug to be used to treat coronavirus. Experts say it's still too early to know if the drug should be used on a widespread basis.