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A tablet of ivermectin arranged in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Bloomberg/Getty Images
  • A new study has investigated whether ivermectin should be included in treating COVID-19.
  • The study involved an at-risk population aged 50 years or older in Malaysia.
  • The team found that the drug does not prevent COVID-19 from becoming severe, adding to a growing body of evidence.

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Medical experts have spent the better part of the last 3 years developing scientific strategies to overcome SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

Currently, some of the most important developments have been COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 treatments, and measures such as physical distancing and wearing a mask.

However, there have been several reports of other potential therapies capable of “protecting” against COVID-19.

Of note is ivermectin, an inexpensive and easily accessible antiparasitic drug that has quickly gained popularity worldwide.

Although several studies have shown that ivermectin has no significant effect on symptoms or hospitalization rates for people with COVID-19, it is still widely prescribed.

Now, a recent study by scientists in Malaysia has set out to determine whether ivermectin has any role in treating the illness.

The study authors conclude that their findings have “dismissed the notion of ivermectin being a ‘miracle drug’ against COVID-19.”

The findings have been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Lead study author Dr. Steven Chee Loon Lim, an infectious diseases consultant at the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital, in Ipoh, explained the findings to Medical News Today:

“Our study showed that ivermectin treatment during early COVID-19 illness did not reduce the risk of progression to severe disease.”

“Among the patients who developed severe disease during the study period, 21.6% received ivermectin plus standard of care, and 17.3% received standard of care alone,” Dr. Lim explained.

“There were also no statistically significant effects in the rate of mechanical ventilation, [intensive care unit (ICU)] admission, mortality, symptom resolution, and duration of hospital stay [between both groups],” he concluded.

The team conducted the study at 20 government hospitals and a COVID-19 quarantine center in Malaysia. Between May and October 2021, they enrolled 500 participants who had tested positive for COVID-19.

The researchers excluded people who were asymptomatic, pregnant, breastfeeding, or who had taken ivermectin or antiviral medicines in the 7 days before enrollment.

The study participants were 50 years or older, had at least one comorbidity, and presented with mild to moderate COVID-19 illness within 7 days of developing symptoms.

The researchers grouped the participants according to the clinical severity of the illness at presentation and the stage of disease progression. The categories included:

  • stage 1 — asymptomatic
  • stage 2 — symptomatic with no evidence of pneumonia
  • stage 3 — evidence of pneumonia but without low oxygen in body tissues
  • stage 4 — low body tissue oxygen and requiring oxygen therapy
  • stage 5 — critical illness involving multiple organs

The team classified stages 2 and 3 as mild and moderate disease states, and stages 4 and 5 as severe.

Finally, the scientists assigned the study participants at random to either the intervention group — which received an oral dose of ivermectin plus the standard of care — or the control group, which received only the standard of care. Randomization is a research technique that helps reduce the risk of accidental bias.

The results showed that 95 participants, or 19.4%, experienced severe disease over the course of the study.

Of this number, 52 had received ivermectin plus the standard of care, while 43 had received the standard of care alone: 21.6% compared with 17.3%, respectively.

The team noted that the time from enrollment to the onset of severe complications was similar for the intervention and control groups: 2.4 days versus 1.8 days.

Additionally, both groups had comparable hospital stay durations and in-hospital mortality rates.

The scientists also reported that ICU admission occurred for 6 individuals in the intervention group and 8 individuals in the control group: 2.5% versus 3.2%.

These findings led the scientists to conclude that “In high-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, ivermectin treatment in early illness did not prevent progression to severe disease.”

A similar conclusion was shared by Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, in Nashville, TN.

He told MNT that “The [study] results reinforce the previously established assessment that ivermectin does not have a place in the treatment of COVID-19 infections.”

“Fortunately, there now are other proven, effective treatments and vaccines that are being used to combat COVID-19,” Prof. Schaffner noted.

The researchers note that their study design may have contributed to underreporting of adverse effects in the control group while overestimating the effects of ivermectin.

They also explain that their study was not designed to measure the effects of ivermectin on mortality rates.

Finally, the researchers acknowledge that their findings may be limited by the older age of the study population. Nonetheless, they maintain the validity and strengths of their findings.