Why It's Too Soon To Tell If A Hair Lice Drug Can Treat COVID-19

Could a drug that is inexpensive, readily accessible, and commonly used to treat head lice really work as an effective treatment against COVID-19? The jury is out. The FDA is warning against the widespread use of such a medication, specifically ivermectin, to treat coronavirus cases, even as an increasing number of doctors are claiming impressive results among their COVID-19 patients.

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug approved for use by the FDA for both animals and humans. It's used to treat conditions such as head lice in humans and heartworm in animals (via FDA). As desperate doctors have tried various treatment options to help their patients, several have found ivermectin to be an effective COVID treatment, especially when combined with other medicines (via KENS 5). San Antonio doctor Dr. Hoan Pho, who specializes in internal medicine, is one of them. He explains, "It prevents COVID from replicating, and it also decreases the viral load. About 50 to 60 patients, there is no hospitalization. Nobody has gotten sicker and has required oxygen to be hospitalized." A handful of other doctors have had similarly positive results.

Ivermectin has been widely used in Latin America

This has prompted a limited number of studies and clinical testing. One promising study conducted by researchers at Monash University found that ivermectin killed the coronavirus within 48 hours in a laboratory setting (via Pharmacy Times). Kylie Wagstaff, Ph.D., who led the study, said, "Ivermectin is very widely used and seen as a safe drug. We need to figure out now whether the dosage you can use it at in humans will be effective — that's the next step."

In Latin America, the use of ivermectin has been so widespread that it's made it difficult to conduct clinical trials, since researchers can't find enough people who haven't yet taken the drug to act as a control group (via Nature). Patricia García, a global-health researcher at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima and a former health minister for Peru, explains the problem: "Of about 10 people who come, I'd say eight have taken ivermectin and cannot participate in the study."

Since testing and clinical trial data on its effectiveness is still limited, the FDA continues to caution against the use of ivermectin outside of clinical trials. It also warns against using the ivermectin which is intended for animals on humans, since the particular drugs and dosages have only been approved as safe and effective for the species for which they are intended. So please, no buying ivermectin from the pet store for personal use.