Veterinary hospitals are familiar with the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin and its uses in preventing and managing a variety of disease conditions in a wide range of species. The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine has recently become aware of increased public visibility of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin following an announcement of a pre-publication research article in the journal Antiviral Research, which looked at the effect of ivermectin on SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in a laboratory setting.1
Veterinary teams are familiar with FDA-approved ivermectin used to prevent heartworm disease in some small animal species, as well as treatment of a variety of internal and external parasites in many animal species. Ivermectin is also approved for use in people as treatment for intestinal strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis. Additionally, topical preparations are approved for human use through a doctor’s prescription to treat external parasites such as head lice and skin conditions such as rosacea.2
It is important for veterinary teams to be aware of this article and the FDA’s warning that humans should not use ivermectin intended for animals as treatment for COVID-19. The paper entitled, “The FDA-approved drug ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro,” documents how SARS-CoV-2 responded after the virus was exposed to ivermectin in a petri dish. Additionally, it is important to note that ivermectin was not given to people or animals in this study. Although studies of this kind are commonly used in the early stages of drug development, it is imperative to remind pet owners that much further and longer term testing is warranted before determining whether or not ivermectin is safe or even effective in preventing or managing COVID-19.
Veterinary teams must communicate with pet owners that may be seeking ivermectin for themselves or suddenly (without a prior prescription or purchase of an ivermectin containing product from the veterinarian) for their pets, that people should never take medications indicated for animals. The FDA has evaluated the safety and efficacy of an individual veterinary medication in the specific animal species for which they are labeled. Taking drugs intended for animals can cause serious harm in people. Veterinary teams will need to educate owners of these facts and that ivermectin prescribed for animals cannot be used to treat COVID-19.
The FDA has produced a FAQ document which can be accessed through their website at https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/faq-covid-19-and-ivermectin-intended-animals.
Veterinary team members should be prepared to answer questions and be vigilant regarding unusual or increased requests for certain products containing ivermectin at their hospitals.
Q: Can I take my pet’s heartworm medication to prevent COVID-19?
A: Ivermectin is not approved for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. No one should take any medicine to treat or prevent COVID-19 unless it has been prescribed to you by your health care provider.
Q: Are there any risks to humans if they take ivermectin?
A: Veterinary team members need to remind pet owners that currently there are no FDA-approved drug products, human or veterinary, to treat COVID-19.2 Taking any medication that is not prescribed by their doctor or health care provider, may result in grave circumstances. Advise the pet owner to never take an unprescribed medication, and to call their health care provider.
It is prudent for veterinary team members to be familiar with some of the side-effects that are associated with ivermectin to better educate owners on the dangers of taking a medication that was prescribed for their pet. According to the FDA, these include “skin rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, facial or limb swelling, neurologic adverse events (dizziness, seizures, confusion), sudden drop in blood pressure, severe skin rash potentially requiring hospitalization and liver injury (hepatitis).” Additionally, the FDA states “laboratory abnormalities include decrease in white cell count and elevated liver tests.”2
The coronavirus pandemic is producing anxiety and fear in people around the world. Fear leads some individuals to wish for and believe in solutions that are not proven. Therefore, veterinary teams must remain calm and professional when faced with questions from pet owners stating that ivermectin is a cure for COVID-19. We must continue to be rational and educate owners regarding up to date information on COVID-19 and veterinary medicine; including the fact that use of ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 should be avoided as its benefits and safety for these purposes have not been established.
- FDA Letter to Stakeholders: Do Not Use Ivermectin Intended for Animals as Treatment for COVID-19 in Humans https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/fda-letter-stakeholders-do-not-use-ivermectin-intended-animals-treatment-covid-19-humans. Accessed April 10, 2020.
- FAQ: COVID-19 and Ivermectin Intended for Animals. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/faq-covid-19-and-ivermectin-intended-animals. Accessed April 10, 2020