Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
3 minute read
15 Jan 2021
9:14 am

Ivermectin as Covid-19 elixir ‘fuelling fire’ of unconfirmed hope, says vet association

Nica Richards

Since last year, a number of scientific papers have indicated promising results. It is simply too early to tell, however, whether it could effectively ease Covid-19 symptoms, according to Sava.

A Covid-19 patient waiting to be admitted at the field hospital by the entrance to Steve Biko Academic Hospital where Gauteng Premier David Makhura visited, 11 January 2020, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

For years, Ivermectin has been used to treat animal parasites and human diseases. The leap currently being made that it could ease Covid-19 symptoms, however, is not yet confirmed. 

Ivermectin was discovered in 1975, and first came into medical use in 1981. 

It is currently on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of essential medicines as an antifilarial, and is widely used to treat human diseases caused by roundworms and ectoparasites, such as sarcoptic mange mites that cause scabies. 

Sarcoptic mange is a contagious skin disease that causes a dog’s hair to fall out and itchy skin. Dogs with mange must be quarantined. Picture: iStock

The South African Veterinary Association (Sava) explained that Ivermectin is a broad-spectrum antiparasitic active ingredient, and forms part of the macrocyclic lactone group. 

It is used to treat dogs, cats, horses and livestock against an array of external and internal parasites. It is also used against agricultural and household pests, and to treat diseases in humans.

This medicine is, in Sava’s words, “invaluable”. But with regards to it being used to treat Covid-19, its success cannot yet be confirmed

ALSO READ: EXPLAINER: Why SAHPRA doesn’t recommend Ivermectin to treat Covid-19

“Since Covid-19 is a virus, rigorous scientific testing which includes randomised control trials and peer review of research has not yet confirmed the use of Ivermectin as an antiviral agent.

“It would be irresponsible to confirm or deny any statement of this nature without having a solid scientific base for it,” Sava said. 

Since last year, a number of scientific papers have indicated promising results. It is simply too early to tell, however, whether it could effectively ease Covid-19 symptoms.

Visvin Reddy (blue shirt), president of the African Democratic Change party, during the ‘Legalise Ivermectin to Fight Covid-19’ demonstration on 11 January 2021 in Durban, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images/Darren Stewart

Sava said in vitro studies appear to show that Ivermectin prevents the nuclear uptake of proteins associated with Covid-19, which inhibits the virus’s ability to replicate and cause disease in its host cells. 

“Furthermore, anecdotal and empirical ‘evidence’ from medical health practitioners that have used Ivermectin on human Covid-19 patients, which were widely spread in social media and other mediums, have fuelled a fire of hope regarding a possible treatment of Covid-19 using a widely available and cheap product,” Sava said. 

But the science behind Ivermectin being used to treat Covid-19 is lacking. 

ALSO READ: AfriForum considering legal action to have Ivermectin approved for Covid-19 treatment

Sava said the size of the studies, and the lack of peer-reviewed evidence and randomised control trials “still begs a number of answers”. 

Sava said that the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and the WHO are currently collating international studies and reviewing available evidence, and that an answer could be expected as early as February. 

However, Sava has emphasised that “information of this nature often spurs hope”, which leads to many being convinced that this is a silver bullet to cure the pandemic. 

“We would like to caution members of the public to avoid taking a product, registered for animal use only in South Africa, for their own use.” 

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